The Senate met at 2 p.m., the Speaker in the chair.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, last week, we learned that the remains of 215 Indigenous children had been discovered on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
This shocking discovery is a grim reminder of the deeply disturbing legacy of Canada’s residential school system, and of the importance of reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples.
On behalf of all senators, I express our shock, and our hopes and prayers for peace for these children, their families, and all those who have had their lives tragically affected by residential schools.
I invite all honourable senators to rise for a minute of silence in their memory.
(Honourable senators then stood in silent tribute.)
Business of the Senate
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I understand that there have been discussions, and that there is an agreement for a representative from the government and each party and group to make a statement at this time.
Kamloops Indian Residential School
Remains of Indigenous Children Found on Site—Tributes
Hon. Patti LaBoucane-Benson: Honourable senators, today we collectively remember and mourn the death of 215 Indigenous children discovered in a mass grave outside a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Colleagues, often in ceremony, elders will remind us that the children are not our possessions but rather precious gifts from the Creator. Our sacred duty is to love and care for them, protect them from harm and support them through the stages of their lives.
The truth is that for over a century, 150,000 Indigenous children were taken away from their families and forced to live at residential schools operated by churches and enabled by the Indian Act.
This deprived not only children of the loving embrace of their families, their language and their identity, it also deprived adults of the opportunity to fulfill their most sacred duty to their Creator — to raise their children.
Today, we acknowledge the pain and re-traumatization that the discovery of this mass grave has caused the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc people and other First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples across this country. We also acknowledge that this is likely one of many mass burial sites that will be discovered in the future. We acknowledge that the children who died were likely terrified. If they were sick, they were probably suffering and alone. They passed from this earth without the comfort of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Honourable senators, we must also acknowledge the children who survived. Many of us have heard the devastating recollections of survivors who were made to dig graves for their classmates, brothers, sisters and cousins forced to grieve the loss of their family alone. The whispers of school violence, death and despair passed on through the generations.
We acknowledge that families were not allowed the dignity of notification and were left to wonder what happened to their children who didn’t return home. They were not allowed the peace of mind required to grieve and accept the loss of their child. The intergenerational grief and loss of Indigenous families remains one of the heaviest burdens of historic trauma.
June 1 is the beginning of National Indigenous History Month. It should be a time to celebrate culture, language resilience and resistance. Instead, we find ourselves reaching out to friends and family to check in on them, hoping their grief and despair does not swallow them whole.
The discovery of what remains of the children’s earthly bodies is a sharp reminder to never forget the children who suffered and those who died at residential schools, to be more mindful of how this trauma manifests in communities, to support community-based, culturally grounded historic trauma healing initiatives and to support the ceremonies that help us to move through this grief, loss and despair. It is a reminder that we all have a responsibility in the healing and reconciliation of our collective pain. Hiy hiy.
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, today I also rise to speak on the horrific tragedy of finding 215 children’s bodies who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. These were children, colleagues. Two hundred and fifteen precious lives cut far too short. All human lives have intrinsic value, and the finding of these 215 bodies devastates me. It devastates me that residential schools are a very real and very dark part of our country’s history, and it should devastate us all.
I will never truly understand the pain that families impacted by, and the survivors of, residential schools have gone through.
This discovery reminds us that our collective reckoning with the past is an ongoing process. Truth must not be sought once but persistently. To me, former prime minister Stephen Harper’s formal apology to residential school survivors in 2008 was a crucial first step in laying the groundwork for ongoing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Then, in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report evidenced what Indigenous peoples already knew — that thousands of Indigenous children’s lives were lost through malnutrition, disease and abuse in Canada’s residential schools.
The number of children who died at Canadian residential schools could be as high as 6,000, but the quantification of these deaths does not make the forgotten graves in Kamloops any less tragic. The Kamloops finding is a tragedy that is troubling to all Canadians at this time, as it resurfaces pain for those who have been directly impacted by residential schools.
As we seek the truth of our past, we cannot let our hope for reconciliation fade. We must continue to face the pain of our collective history. We owe it to the families who have lost children through residential schools and to the school survivors to keep pursuing and working together to foster renewed hope for a better future.
On behalf of the opposition in the Senate, I wish to offer our condolences, thoughts and prayers to the Indigenous peoples, families and communities who are suffering and mourning. I join all colleagues in this chamber in a moment of silence to mourn the lives and the deaths of 215 children.
Let us take a moment to honour them, and may our gesture of respect offer some comfort in these difficult times. Thank you.
Hon. Dan Christmas: Honourable senators, I rise today with profound sorrow to address the unspeakable tragedy of the discovery last week of the graves of the young innocents who perished in the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
I speak on behalf of the Independent Senators Group, and I offer thanks to Senator Woo for the opportunity to do so. I assure you, this will not be easy for any of us. I speak not to incite anger or to point fingers in blame but to ask that we might turn from our past and acknowledge the tragedy of what we have done in our history and, through this, to encourage us all to confront the sobering realities of who we are and what we have been as a nation.
Consider the 215 children: 215 futures never realized, 215 souls whose lives could have changed their nations — and, indeed, Canada — had they been spared and allowed their rights and freedoms as equal and worthy human beings.
Instead, the public policy of this country, the Indian Act, enacted in 1876 by legislation from the Parliament in which we now serve, ensured that our country never gained benefit or value from these lives.
Today, Canada is a nation awash in a tidal wave of tears, and we must let them flow. Our people, my people and yes, your people — for that is what they are and what we are — are steeped in grief and sorrow. We mourn our lost babies, our lost angels, our lost culture, our lost freedoms, the disassociation from our lands and traditions and the way that we must endlessly struggle to convince Canada to understand, to appreciate and to embrace who we are and to what we continue to aspire.
We beseech you to understand that we need to work together to validate that, in this instance, evidence of this policy clearly cost lives — young, helpless, frightened lives. Consider that, colleagues. Think of them and remember, “There is no footprint too small to leave an imprint on this world.” Let us be their footprints. Let us be their voices.
Honourable colleagues, I urge us to act and to let the Prime Minister and Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller, know that we must immediately grant additional funding to the existing mental health supports in Indigenous communities. We need more than just a telephone helpline to contend with this tragedy. We need, at the very least, to have sharing circles offered online with mental health supports. These are absolute bare minimums.
It has been said that, “Tears are words that need to be written.” Let us, as senators, shed such tears. Let us write the words and enact whatever means that put an end to the horrific tragedy of the loss of life as a direct consequence of Canada’s past public policy.
I can think of at least 215 reasons to do that, 215 reasons to change and 215 reasons to stop, turn from our past and seek to change and to do better. The 215 souls and memories of these angels deserve no less than this.
Wela’lioq. Thank you.
Hon. Scott Tannas: Unspeakable — and yet we must.
The voices of 215 angels have joined a chorus urging Canadians to seek the truth and understand the monstrous tragedy that rolled on in our country for decades: Children taken from their homes and families, sent far away, many never to return, having died scared and alone, without their mothers and fathers to comfort them.
Canada will never be the place that we want it to be until we own this part of our history. We need to act upon reconciliation.
The heroes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, those who spoke their painful truth and those who bravely listened, have provided us with clear and measurable Calls to Action.
For many of us in Canada, today is day one of reconciliation action. Canadians from all walks of life, all creeds and colours, stand ready, with our hearts full, wanting to do something, wanting to act.
How do we act? Tonight, before I put my head down to sleep in the comfort and safety of my home in this country of wealth and promise, I am going to read the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I am going to pick one of them, and dedicate my efforts toward the achievement of that goal. When it is achieved, I will choose another, and so on. This is how I, as one Canadian, intend to walk the path of action and honour. This is how I will honour the lost children of the Kamloops residential school and the many, many more angels whose voices I expect we will soon hear from. Thank you.
Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I would like to begin by acknowledging that I am joining from you from Mi’gma’ki, the ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq people.
Today, I add my voice to those who have already spoken about the tragic discovery last week of the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, who were buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of the now-closed Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
For many of us, it seems unthinkable that such atrocities could have taken place, particularly toward some of our most vulnerable — our children. But for many First Nations, Métis and Inuit, this news has reopened a wound that has still not had the opportunity to heal. The trauma and suffering of these communities are more than just a dark chapter in our history. It is a lived and ongoing reality for Indigenous people.
Honourable senators, we must work harder to ensure that we address these harms through concrete and lasting actions. It is especially important for those of us who are non-Indigenous to play an active role in reconciliation. We must make space to listen to the voices of the First Nation, Métis and Inuit populations. But, honourable senators, listening is not enough.
We must acknowledge that the pain we felt when hearing the news of the 215 deaths of these innocent children who were taken and never returned home requires a response that goes beyond words. The work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has provided us with the guidance for our next steps. These actions will advance truth, healing and reconciliation more than any words possibly could.
Honourable senators, we must recognize and honour the lives of these 215 children and share in the collective grief surrounding the circumstances of their deaths. But we must also share the responsibility and commit to the work required for real reconciliation. I support the Indigenous leaders who have urged us to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, including searching every Indian residential school site to ensure that there are no more lost Indigenous people.
On behalf of the Progressive Senate Group, I offer our sincere condolences to the families and to the communities of the 215 children found in British Columbia, as well as to all Indigenous peoples whose lives have been impacted by residential schools. We see you, we hear you and you have our support.
Honourable senators, we can and we must do better. Thank you.
Kamloops Indian Residential School
Remains of Indigenous Children Found
Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: Thank you to Senator Rob Black and to Senator Martin for offering their space today. Honourable senators, this is an intergenerational statement.
A mass grave of children — sons, daughters, siblings, grandchildren, potential leaders and change agents — a genocide of children who were never given the opportunity to live their lives, simply because they were Indian. Their connection to family, to their culture, their hopes and dreams for their futures all stolen, and by whom? Does this continue today?
These were 215 beautiful, innocent, trusting little spirits that believed in their hearts that it would all work out. They missed their families and never understood how they came to be where they were.
One of my most persistent emotions in residential school was overwhelming loneliness and the bewildering feeling of abandonment. It was so unlike my family. I came to realize that abandonment by my parents was not the issue but that I was abandoned by the system — whether it was the church or the government who initiated and perpetuated the kidnappings.
This is Canada.
Our hearts are broken. Canada is broken.
As a child who went to residential school at the age of five, I want to send a message to the parents and all the relatives. I know you loved me. I never let you go. You were always in my thoughts, in my heart, in my tears and in my being. How could you not be? I know you didn’t let me go and that you loved me and carried me with you. Don’t feel guilty for what is not yours to carry. You have found me and I am so glad you never gave up. Know that I always loved you and still love you as only a child could. Remember my laughter, my spirit, my love of life, my love of stories and ceremonies, for that was always the part of you that I loved and carried close to me.
Remember to pass on the beautiful parts of our culture, because that is something they could never take away from us. Remember, they can never take away our love for each other.
Sending love and peace to the 215 innocent and trusting souls and their families, to the Kamloops First Nation, to the former students of residential schools, to our families and to the specialists who discovered the remains.
Thank you. Kinanâskomitin.
National Housing Strategy
Hon. Éric Forest: Your Honour, I want to begin by humbly expressing my support for the Indigenous families who had their own children cruelly taken from them.
Honourable senators, exactly one month from today will be moving day in Quebec.
As it happens every year, some families will end up in the street or in temporary housing because they are unable to find a decent place to live. That is not to mention the poorly housed families, who have resigned themselves to living in unsafe or poorly heated homes.
With the shortage of rental housing, the skyrocketing cost of rent, the poor quality of available housing, fraudulent evictions and discrimination, the situation has become untenable for low-income renters. This phenomenon, which used to occur mainly in urban areas, is now affecting every community. According to the Comité Logement Rimouski-Neigette, the vacancy rate for three-bedroom units in Rimouski is 0.2%. The vacancy rate in a balanced market is about 3%.
The housing crisis is so serious that Canada’s mayors made housing their main request for the last federal budget. However, the budget was very disappointing for those who hoped the government would take real action to meet the ambitious objectives set out in the National Housing Strategy. The newly announced amounts will mainly be used for programs to fight homelessness or will go to private housing developers and encourage the creation of housing with rents that are often too high for low-income renters.
While the federal government is attempting to grow the post-COVID economy, it seems to me it is missing a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Reinvesting in the construction of social housing would stimulate job creation and facilitate access to housing. The government could also make sure that revenues from the new 1% tax on non-resident-owned residential properties are allocated to housing instead of being added to the public purse.
Currently, measures aimed at increasing the disposable income of families, such as raising benefits for our seniors, increasing the Canada Child Benefit and improving housing benefits, are being eroded by the rapidly rising cost of rent.
To alleviate poverty in the long term, there is no way around it: We must increase the stock of social housing units to stabilize prices. Thank you, esteemed colleagues, for your attention.
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I wish to join colleagues to express my profound sadness about the horrific discovery of children’s graves in Kamloops. I know this sad news has triggered awful memories from many residential school survivors in Nunavut, and my heart goes out to all of them.
Honourable senators, on May 27, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission reversed its 2019 decision to require wholesale pricing rates be offered to smaller internet service providers by Canada’s so-called Big Three: Bell, TELUS and Rogers.
The result for Canadians? This will significantly hamper competition throughout Canada, effectively raising internet and wireless costs for Canadians, who already have some of the highest costs for these services in the world. TekSavvy Solutions, one of the affected ISPs and Canada’s largest independent ISP, filed a cabinet appeal less than 24 hours after the decision was rendered. They also announced they were pulling out of the 3.5‑gigahertz wireless spectrum auction this month and dropping its mobile wireless plans.
In its appeal, they asked for cabinet to overrule the decision and called for the removal of CRTC Chairman Ian Scott, alleging “clear bias” based on quoted statements they felt showed a personal preference in support of the Big Three. TekSavvy is also asking cabinet to bring back the August 2019 rates, to force the incumbents to repay the difference between the 2016 interim rates and the August 2019 rates, and to direct the competition commissioner to address the incumbents’ anti-competitive activity.
Colleagues, this government made a promise to lower cellphone bills by 25% as part of its 2019 platform. They have pushed to connect all Canadians to a basic standard of internet, recognizing that in today’s world, access to internet is a basic human right.
Should this shocking reversal by the CRTC be allowed to stand, we are condemning Canadians to sky-high internet bills and a non-competitive market. We are destroying the small- and medium-sized businesses, which are the independent ISPs. We are displacing their workers.
I would urge senators to join me in support of TekSavvy’s call for cabinet to reverse this terrible decision. Thank you. Qujannamiik.
National Indigenous History Month
Hon. Mary Coyle: Honourable senators, in June we celebrate National Indigenous History Month.
My intention was to speak to you of the many Indigenous good news stories coming out of Mi’kmaqi: The new greenhouse supporting food security in Potlotek; Membertou residents Armand Paul and Madison Joe graduating from Dalhousie Law School; Paqt’nkek building its own school so children can learn their Mi’kmaq language and culture; Tom and Carol Anne Johnson of Eskasoni bringing their Mi’kmaq language to “Chicken Run” and the hit show “Vikings;” Mi’kmaq artist Alan Syliboy with students at Pictou Landing painting Mi’kmaq petroglyphs on a boat to be displayed at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic; Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, the 12 community education collectives receiving the Governor General’s Innovation Awards for leadership and success in language, culture and identity promotion while achieving 90% graduation rates.
Honourable senators, I could go on because there is so much to celebrate, but, like you, I am reeling from the heartbreaking and horrific news of the discovery of the remains of the 215 First Nations children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
What can one say? It is hard to fathom the individual, institutional and societal acts of cruelty perpetrated against these young innocents, their families and their communities. Why did it happen? Why was it tolerated? Where is the humanity? Where is the respect? Where is the love? Where is the law?
What do we do now? We mourn and name the children. We push for fulfillment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice. We advance legislation to protect human rights, to advance self-determination and to educate about these shameful truths. But what do we do about our relationships?
Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Norman Sylliboy is teaching me about Ta’n Wetapeksi’k, which means understanding where we come from, a concept critical for reconciliation. Understanding where we come from requires listening and honouring.
Honourable senators, in that spirit I conclude by sharing these words of Rita Joe, Mi’kmaq poet and Shubenacadie residential school survivor.
I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubenacadie School.
You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad, about my word.
Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.
So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk.
So I can teach you about me.
Honouring Indigenous Arts, Cultures and Traditions
Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, like all Canadians, the horror of the discovery of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School hit me hard. I cannot fathom the pain residential school survivors and all Indigenous communities are experiencing, and their reliving of years past. Thoughts and compassion are real but not enough.
How were those innocent lives stolen? I have mentioned the heart-rending conversation I had in the early 1980s with Kwakwaka’wakw artist Art Thompson before — a survivor of the Alberni Residential School on Vancouver Island. I was director of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria installing an exhibition of his amazing art. He asked for a quiet place for us to talk. Several hours later, after hearing his story, I was changed forever. I was very sad Art died before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established.
I have also spoken of the poignant visual voicing by Canadian artists of the wrongness and impacts of residential schools. Many expressed their own realities. I will recall three: The Lesson by Alberta artist Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Sandy Bay by Robert Houle, and The Assiniboine Fool Society by Jane Ash Poitras. They portray the burying of their traditional learnings and languages and showed their isolated, jail-like places and the inappropriateness of the colonial-only curricula. We need these truths.
In my native Manitoba I had the opportunity to work closely with two potential cultural centres celebrating Indigenous traditions, culture and art, one with Sioux Valley Dakota Nation near Brandon, the other for an Aboriginal art centre in northern Manitoba. Obstacles to both included lack of funding and bureaucratic red tape at the provincial and federal levels. That must change going forward. The pain resulting from residential schools was clear from my hearings with the former. If I was changed by Art Thompson’s tales, I was doubly changed again.
In 2008, the Chief Executive Officer of the Keewatin Tribal Council, Sharon McKay, opined that the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Art Gallery should be:
. . . grounded in Aboriginal cultural traditions, which ensures that Aboriginals are heard and their cultural practices are maintained and not lost. It should be inclusive while safeguarding the people and providing a place where they can strive.
For the Northern Plains Aboriginal Centre in 2006, it became clear southwestern Manitoba needed a place “to celebrate the roots and accomplishments of the Aboriginal people” balancing training and cultural traditions. Repatriation was a key element.
Honourable senators, I add my commitment to do whatever I can to move reconciliation forward. I fear we will hear of more finds of horrific losses. Truth must prevail. It is time for action. I thank you from the Treaty 1 territory, the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, the Cree, Oji-Cree, Dene and Dakota and the heart of the Métis Nation.
Certificate of Nomination and Biographical Notes Tabled
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the certificate of nomination and biographical notes for the reappointment of Daniel Therrien as Privacy Commissioner.
Audit and Oversight
Fourth Report of Committee Presented
Hon. David M. Wells: Honourable senators, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report (interim) of the Standing Committee on Audit and Oversight, entitled Intersessional Authority.
(For text of report, see today’s Journals of the Senate, p. 582.)
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this report be taken into consideration?
(On motion of Senator Wells, report placed on the Orders of the Day for consideration at the next sitting of the Senate.)
Budget Implementation Bill, 2021, No. 1
Second Report of Aboriginal Peoples Committee on Subject Matter Tabled
Hon. Dan Christmas: Honourable senators, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, which deals with the subject matter of those elements contained in Divisions 10 and 31 of Part 4 of Bill C-30, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 19, 2021 and other measures.
(Pursuant to the order adopted on May 4, 2021, the report was deemed referred to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance and placed on the Orders of the Day for consideration at the next sitting.)
Motion to Reappoint Incumbent Adopted
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, with leave of the Senate and notwithstanding rule 5-5(j), I move:
That, in accordance with subsection 53(1) of the Privacy Act, Chapter P-21, R.S.C. 1985, the Senate approve the reappointment of Mr. Daniel Therrien as Privacy Commissioner, for a term of one year.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to.)
Motion to Resolve into Committee of the Whole to Consider Subject Matter of Bill C-5 Adopted
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, with leave of the Senate and notwithstanding rule 5-5(j), I move:
That, notwithstanding any provisions of the Rules, usual practice or previous order, when the Senate sits on Thursday, June 3, 2021:
1.the Senate resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole at the start of Orders of the Day to consider the subject matter of Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation), with any proceedings then before the Senate being interrupted until the end of Committee of the Whole, which shall last a maximum of 95 minutes;
2.the Committee of the Whole on the subject matter of Bill C-5 receive the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, P.C., M.P., Minister of Canadian Heritage, accompanied by at most four officials;
3.the witness’s introductory remarks last a maximum total of five minutes; and
4.if a senator does not use the entire period of 10 minutes for debate provided under rule 12-32(3)(d), including the responses of the witnesses, that senator may yield the balance of time to another senator.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to.)
Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Bill
Notice of Motion to Authorize Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee to Study Subject Matter
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That, in accordance with rule 10-11(1), the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources be authorized to examine the subject matter of Bill C-12, An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050, introduced in the House of Commons on November 19, 2020, in advance of the said bill coming before the Senate; and
That, for the purposes of this study, the committee be authorized to meet even though the Senate may then be sitting, with the application of rule 12-18(1) being suspended in relation thereto.
Bills of Exchange Act Interpretation Act Canada Labour Code
Bill to Amend—First Reading
The Hon. the Speaker informed the Senate that a message had been received from the House of Commons with Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation).
(Bill read first time.)
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the second time?
(On motion of Senator Gold, bill placed on the Orders of the Day for second reading at the next sitting of the Senate.)
Notice of Motion Pertaining to Section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982
Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, I give notice that, at the next sitting of the Senate, I will move:
That the Senate:
1. recall that, despite the commitment found in section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982 to have a fully bilingual Constitution, as of today, of the 31 enactments that make up the Canadian Constitution, 22 are official only in their English version, including almost all of the Constitution Act, 1867; and
2.call upon the government to consider, in the context of the review of the Official Languages Act, the 2018 recommendation of the Canadian Bar Association to include a section requiring the Minister of Justice of Canada to submit, every five years, a report detailing the efforts made to implement section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Consultations that Preceded and Followed the Tabling of Bill C-15
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition): Senator Gold, you’re from Montreal. My first question has to do with a sporting event between Winnipeg and Montreal — I’m sorry, those are the wrong notes.
Senator Gold, as the Trudeau government’s representative in this chamber, you are responsible for ensuring that information requested by honourable senators is provided by your government in a timely manner.
With respect to Bill C-15, your government has repeatedly been asked to provide the full list of who it consulted with, both before the bill was brought forward and after it was tabled. Senator Patterson and his office have asked for the full consultation list multiple times.
During an Aboriginal Peoples Committee meeting on May 7, Senator Stewart Olsen again asked for the full consultation list. Each time, they received assurances it would be provided, but they are still waiting.
Leader, we’ve been told the full list exists. Why is the Trudeau government unwilling to provide it?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, for your question. As the honourable senator may be aware, the Government of Canada has already published a detailed consultation report online as to what was heard from various stakeholders, which helped inform the basis of Bill C-15, which is now in this chamber.
The government, as part of its constitutional duties, will continue to consult with Indigenous peoples and Indigenous organizations as to the implementation of UNDRIP in the context of Canadian law.
Indeed, when the minister appeared before our committee, to which you made reference, also indicated that he would listen to the perspectives of the Senate in order to inform the implementation and direction of the action plan, which will be the driving force in this regard. I will certainly inquire, honourable colleague, as to the status of any additional consultations, but this chamber can rest assured that the government takes its obligation to consult very seriously and this has been fully exercised.
Senator Plett: Well, this should be quite simple then. In my opinion, this is yet another example of the Trudeau government’s long list of broken promises. You say it’s listed: balanced budgets, electoral reform, clean drinking water on reserves, not fighting veterans in court, a government open by default, transparency and accountability. Clearly, these promises were just words to the Trudeau government.
Leader, you could make a small step towards changing this pattern of secrecy by your government. Do you commit today, leader, to provide this chamber with a full consultation list, as promised, before clause by clause and third reading of Bill C-15; yes or no?
Senator Gold: I’ve been advised that the list that has been provided is what the government has in its possession, but I will certainly make inquiries and report back to the chamber.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls—National Action Plan
Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, my question is also for the government leader in the Senate.
The devastating discovery of a mass grave containing 215 children at the site of a former Indian residential school in Kamloops has filled our hearts with sadness for these small children and their families. Far too many Indigenous families in Canada have lost cherished loved ones without ever knowing what happened to them. One family is too many.
Two years ago, June 3, 2019, the federal government received the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Over these past two years, this government has failed to bring forward a national action plan in response to this report, which is what the Prime Minister had promised on the day the final report was released in 2019.
Leader, when will your government finally bring forward its action plan?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. In response to the public inquiry, the government is working and continues to work — not only with provincial and territorial governments, but with Indigenous leaders, survivors and families — to develop this national action plan in order to set a clear road map to ensure that Indigenous women, girls, two-spirited and gender-diverse people are safe.
With its partners, including over 100 Indigenous women, the government is committed to ensuring that it has indicators and measurements that will allow this plan to be accountable for the results and allow this to evolve over time. I’ve been advised that the government is making good progress on the development of the federal component, and it is but one component of the federal action plan.
Senator Martin: It has been two years, leader, so we look forward to the action plan very soon.
The final report brought forward two years ago also noted that while Indigenous women represented only 4% of Canada’s population in 2016, they comprised nearly 50% of victims of human trafficking. The report looked into problems of cooperation across different policing jurisdictions as well as a lack of reliable data about human trafficking networks and the recruitment methods in areas targeted by traffickers.
Leader, just before the 2019 federal election your government reinstated the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which actually the Trudeau government had cancelled in 2016. How much of the $75 million under this plan has been allocated to directly help protect Indigenous women and girls against human trafficking?
Senator Gold: Human trafficking is an abominable and unacceptable practice with tragic consequences. I do not have the figures at hand, honourable colleague. I will make inquiries and report back.
Health Care Services Available to Transgender People
Hon. René Cormier: Senator Gold, today is the first day of Pride Month. I want to applaud the dedication of LGBTQ2+ community members who are working tirelessly in pursuit of full recognition of their rights here at home and internationally. Health care is a key concern for members of LGBTQ2+ communities. It is crucial for trans people who do not have access to uniform levels of care across the country. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health published a report entitled The Health of LGBTQIA2 Communities in Canada, which recommended concrete action the federal government should take on these issues, such as providing uniform coverage for hormones and medical care for trans people across the country.
Recently, members of Parliament of all parties publicly spoke out about the need to do more in terms of health care for trans people. Some are proponents of using the Canada Health Act, but others would like to see national standards of care.
Senator Gold, what concrete measures will the government take to ensure equitable access to health care for trans people across the country?
Will it adopt or develop standards of care, as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health did in its publication entitled Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, senator. Since 2000, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have had the Institute of Gender and Health, which continues to foster research on the influence of sex and gender on health and to apply these findings to identify and address pressing health challenges facing men, women, girls and boys and gender-diverse people. Your notice gave me an opportunity to request information from the government, but unfortunately I have not yet gotten a response. Once I hear back from the government, I will let you know as soon as possible.
Senator Cormier: Senator Gold, the government has made significant investments in health care. Can you confirm whether some of that money will be set aside for programs specifically designed for health care for trans people?
Senator Gold: Thank you for the question. I’ll have to check on that and then get back to you with an answer.
COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout at Foreign Missions
Hon. Peter M. Boehm: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.
Senator Gold, my question is about the government’s vaccination plan for employees working abroad at Canada’s 178 missions in 110 countries. As you know, these are employees of many government departments and agencies, and there are more than 7,800 staff members working at embassies, high commissions and consulates. Roughly 25% of them are Canadian, and the rest are locally engaged staff who are also employed by the Government of Canada.
I’ve lived this life and I know it’s precarious when you’re out there with your families and dependants; and in cases now, people are wondering when they will be vaccinated. This is complicated by the fact that some employees are in countries where the vaccines we have approved in Canada are not approved there, and vice versa.
Of course, other countries are a bit ahead of us. I’m thinking of the U.S. and the United Kingdom. In the United States, the State Department has designated its embassy staff as front-line workers.
Why is there a delay in coming up with a comprehensive plan? When will a plan be finalized? When can employees and dependants abroad expect to be fully vaccinated?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, colleague, for raising this issue. It’s an important and challenging one. It goes without saying that the health and safety of our employees are the government’s top priorities.
With regard to your question, I’ve been advised that Global Affairs Canada has put in place measures designed to ensure the safety, security and well-being of its employees to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to conduct the important work of advancing Canadian interests globally while, at the same time, as you noted, respecting the guidance of local health authorities.
The government’s goal is to ensure that all employees have access to vaccines, including at all of our missions abroad: Canadian diplomats, their dependants and locally engaged staff. I’ve been advised that Canadian diplomats and their dependants currently serving abroad are authorized to access approved vaccines locally, where available. If these are not available, Canada will ensure they are vaccinated through different options, which will vary according to the location.
The government will continue to ensure that all Global Affairs Canada personnel working abroad have access to vaccines wherever possible.
Senator Boehm: I know it’s a bit of a grey zone, but our locally engaged staff have dependents as well. As we’ve learned through the course of this pandemic, vaccinating one family member does not necessarily provide the solution in terms of an end solution. Are there plans to vaccinate the families of locally engaged staff as well?
Senator Gold: Thank you for the question. I simply don’t have the answer, colleague. I will certainly make inquiries. I would encourage you, with your network as well, to assist me in that regard. Thank you.
Pandemic Support for Air Canada
Hon. Jean-Guy Dagenais: My question is for the Government Representative in the Senate. The Trudeau government boasts about the strict rules it put in place for executive compensation at Air Canada in the assistance plan it announced in April.
This morning we found out that those executives gave themselves $10 million in bonuses for their excellent management of the pandemic, which essentially resulted in some 20,000 employees being laid off. I think that is shameful. I would like to know if the Minister of Finance, Ms. Freeland, was aware of these bonuses at the time of the agreement or if Air Canada took advantage of her naivety, like the U.S. government did with the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, which is costing Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year in compensation to our farmers.
At this point, should the minister halt the government’s assistance to Air Canada?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question. As you know, the programs implemented to help companies like Air Canada have strict rules about compensation for executives. According to the information I have, the issue of bonuses, which you mentioned, was more of a concern before the government provided support to Air Canada to ensure that it could continue operations.
Senator Dagenais: How can your Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, justify the fact that his Minister of Finance has no other explanation than to argue that she is unable to act on the decisions of the company? She should have requested those decisions be cancelled before giving the company taxpayers’ money.
Senator Gold: The Canadian government implemented a good number of measures. Here, in this chamber, I was asked by my colleagues about targeted assistance in the economy, including the aerospace sector. I will repeat what I have said several times. The government made these decisions to ensure that this important sector of our economy, with all the jobs it represents, is supported during this pandemic.
Employment and Social Development
Support for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care
Hon. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.
Senator Gold, when youth in foster care reach the age of majority, they lose government supports and are left unequipped to deal with the financial and emotional challenges of living independently. A serious consequence of those aging out of foster care is the potential to fall directly into the criminal justice system. Indigenous and Black youth are overrepresented in the foster care system and in the criminal justice system.
Foster care also carries the legacy of residential schools, as we have heard again this week from many survivors and elders the harrowing stories of abuse and genocide. There are still many young Indigenous people suffering from this part of Canada’s history. The issues are still so pertinent and current.
Youth and their advocates are reporting that the many challenges associated with aging out of care have been exacerbated by the pandemic. This population is at risk of being forgotten as the rest of Canada builds back better.
Senator Gold, how is the federal government working with the provinces and territories to address the issue of aging out of foster care?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, for the question. The government knows that all children, including Indigenous and Black children, deserve to grow up in a home that is culturally relevant and has the resources to deal with and ensure their success in life.
As you imply in your question and as senators would know, foster care falls exclusively within provincial jurisdiction, but I would be very happy to draw the federal government’s attention to the possibility of examining what role the federal government could play in facilitating a dialogue and working towards uniform policy-making across jurisdictions.
Senator Bernard: Senator Gold, if we could encourage the federal government to work with the provinces to nationally disrupt the pipeline of youth moving from foster care to the criminal justice system, that would certainly be very useful. Is that something that the federal government might commit to doing?
Senator Gold: Thank you for your question. The federal government is committed to working with the provinces in the areas where jurisdiction overlaps and interacts, such as the criminal justice system, to point to the example that you cite. I certainly will bring your suggestion to the attention of the government.
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Senator Gold, Marcus Kolga, Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, wrote an alarming opinion piece for Maclean’s on May 26 that highlights Canada’s need to aggressively assert sovereignty over its Arctic. Russia has now taken over as chair of the Arctic Council and also expanded it claims to include the continental shelf all the way up to Canada’s exclusive economic zone.
This is a country that has also, without permission, been dropping its toxic hydrazine-fuelled rocket stages in sensitive Canadian Arctic waters. Russia has been rapidly militarizing and building telecommunications and transport infrastructure in its Arctic.
Canada, in contrast, has major infrastructure gaps, and in October 2020, one of our brand new Arctic and offshore patrol vessels, which are not capable of year-round Arctic operations in winter ice, broke down on a training exercise in Halifax Harbour.
Senator Gold, could you please tell this chamber if the government has a comprehensive plan and timeline to put in place the infrastructure we need to ensure Canada’s continued sovereignty and security in the Arctic?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, senator. The government knows that the Arctic is an extremely important region in our country. It is the position of this government, and those before it, that Canada’s Arctic sovereignty is well established and not in dispute.
With regard to your question, there have been a number of different initiatives touching on Arctic security and sovereignty that have been taken. For example: conducting joint military exercises in the Arctic; investing in the All Domain Situational Awareness Science and Technology Program; importantly, purchasing six Arctic and offshore patrol ships; and constructing icebreaker vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard to use in the North.
Senator, thanks to your advance notice of the question, I have inquired about the nature or extent of interdepartmental coordination in the government’s Arctic planning. I have not yet received the answer but would be happy to share it when I hear back.
Senator Patterson: Senator Gold, as you know, the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic recommended that the Government of Canada ensure Canadian Arctic security and safety, and assert and protect Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic, backed up by information in our report. I understand that initiatives have been taken.
Will the government give any thought to a comprehensive plan to address the infrastructure gaps as an alternative to continuing to take initiatives and making ad hoc announcements?
Senator Gold: Thank you. The initiatives that the government has taken and announced are material and contribute to the assertion of Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic. Having said that, I would be happy to make inquiries as to your question and share the information with you when I receive it.
Import Prohibition on Goods Produced by Forced Labour
Hon. Salma Ataullahjan: Honourable senators, my question is for the government leader in the Senate. Despite forced labour provisions in the new NAFTA and additional measures announced by the Trudeau government in January, it does not appear that Canada has prevented the importation of goods produced under forced labour from places such as China’s Xinjiang province. In March, the Toronto Star reported that not a single shipment had been prevented from entering Canada under these rules.
In late April, the Minister of International Trade appeared before a committee in the other place and was asked for an updated figure. Minister Ng refused to say at that time how many shipments had been stopped.
Leader, perhaps you can shed more light for us. To date, has your government stopped any shipments of products made by forced labour from entering Canada? If so, how many and what was their country of origin?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question. I don’t have the answers to the question. I will certainly make inquiries and report back to the chamber.
Senator Ataullahjan: Leader, it seems that the United States has been much more proactive than Canada as of late, stopping shipments of goods made through forced labour. Between October 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website says it detained 371 shipments related to forced labour.
On Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced that it had banned the importation of seafood from China’s Dalian Ocean Fishing Co., Ltd., based on information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labour in its fishing operations. This order applies to the entire fleet of 32 vessels owned by this company.
Leader, how can the Trudeau government say this is a priority for them when we are not even permitted to know if Canada has stopped any such shipments?
Senator Gold: Senator Ataullahjan, I don’t have the answer to how many shipments have been stopped. I will do my best to get that answer and report back.
Three-year Review of the Cannabis Act
Hon. Marty Deacon: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.
Senator Gold, during our debates on medical assistance in dying this year, it became increasingly clear that the missed review mandate in Bill C-14 left a number of gaps in our knowledge when Bill C-7 was before us. As a senator, I listen carefully to the commitments we make to reviews on various bills. Another review stipulation is fast approaching. That is the scheduled three-year legislative review of the federal Cannabis Act in October of this year.
Has the government begun to prepare this review? Has it factored in uncertainties like the pandemic in its preparations in a timely and diligent manner? Thank you.
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Senator, thank you for raising this question. Thanks to your advance notice, I’ve made inquiries of the government, but I have not yet received an answer. When I hear back, I will share this with the chamber.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government. Leader, last month, a Federal Court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the CBC against the Conservative Party of Canada, a lawsuit which was launched during the last federal election campaign. The ruling found that the Conservative Party’s use of CBC material in its advertising was for an allowable purpose and was fair dealing. The lawsuit was dismissed with costs.
Leader, this was indeed a shameful waste of taxpayers’ dollars. It exposed the CBC’s obvious bias. How much has the CBC cost taxpayers for this? How much will the CBC pay the Conservative Party? Has anyone who was responsible for bringing forward this ridiculous lawsuit been fired from the CBC?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, I will be brief. I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I will make some inquiries.
Senator Plett: Thank you. I appreciate that. I trust we will have those answers shortly.
Leader, if no one at the CBC has been fired for this, how can we be sure the CBC won’t try this again during the next federal election campaign?
Senator Gold: I thank the honourable senator for his question. The fact that a court has ruled one way or the other does not mean that the decisions that were taken, which were initially at the heart of it, were not worthy of a study or review by a court. The fact is that broadcasters have a right to protect their material. No one in this chamber would deny that nor argue that that right should be abandoned. The fact remains that our public broadcasters and, indeed, all of our broadcasters have a responsibility to follow the law and follow the rules.
The fact that a court rules otherwise — and I have every respect for the decisions of our courts — should not be taken to be anything other than our system of justice working as it should.
Canada Emergency Business Account
Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, this is a question regarding small businesses that were shut out of eligibility for Canada Emergency Business Account, or CEBA, loans. The Prime Minister promised to fix this for the newly created businesses. That was back in May 2020. It has been over a year. I keep raising this, but it still hasn’t been fixed. New businesses that opened up, through no fault of their own, have not been eligible. Have we fixed this yet?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, I’m not aware of what steps may or may not have been taken or may be under way. I’ll have to make inquiries and report back.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Offshore Health and Safety Act
Bill to Amend—Message from Commons
The Hon. the Speaker informed the Senate that a message had been received from the House of Commons returning Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act, and acquainting the Senate that they had passed this bill without amendment.
Parliament of Canada Act
Bill to Amend—Third Reading
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Harder, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Gold, P.C., for the third reading of Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts.
Hon. Denise Batters: Honourable senators, I rise today to voice my concerns about Bill S-4, an act that amends the Parliament of Canada Act to enshrine some of the changes Prime Minister Trudeau has imposed upon the Senate in statute.
The Parliament of Canada Act is only amended quite rarely, and I submit that the changes made in the legislation before us could alter the purpose, the effectiveness and the proud parliamentary tradition of the Senate of Canada.
Government and opposition have existed since the inception of the Canadian Senate in 1867. Each has its specific role to play in a Westminster parliamentary system: the government to enact its legislative agenda and the opposition to provide scrutiny and pushback to the government; to protect the views of minorities against the tyranny of the majority; to improve legislation for the benefit of all Canadians; and to hold the government accountable.
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who was also from my home province of Saskatchewan, described it this way:
If Parliament is to be preserved as a living institution His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition must fearlessly perform its functions. When it properly discharges them the preservation of our freedom is assured. The reading of history proves that freedom always dies when criticism ends. It upholds and maintains the rights of minorities against majorities. It must be vigilant against oppression and unjust invasions by the Cabinet of the rights of the people. It should supervise all expenditures and prevent over-expenditure by exposing to the light of public opinion wasteful expenditures or worse. It finds fault; it suggests amendments; it asks questions and elicits information; it arouses, educates and molds public opinion by voice and vote. It must scrutinize every action by the government and in doing so prevents the short-cuts through democratic procedure that governments like to make.
Bill S-4 doesn’t provide any additional powers for the official opposition than it has under the current Parliament of Canada Act. In fact, I believe it may devalue and diminish the official opposition’s distinct role by giving three other groups of “independent” senators powers equal to the opposition’s own: the right to be consulted on the appointment of certain officers and agents of Parliament, the entitlement to paid leadership positions for their “non-caucus” caucuses of “independent” senators and the right to change membership on the Senate’s internal administrative committee, CIBA.
When Mr. Trudeau decided to expel Liberal senators from his national caucus in 2014, he set in motion a cascade of unintended consequences. First, let’s not forget that he made this surprise move not out of a dedicated desire for Senate reform, but rather as a politically expedient way for the Liberal Party to dodge any responsibility for or association with the Senate expense scandal that had gripped the media’s attention at the time. All of a sudden, senators with years and decades of institutional, legislative and partisan knowledge were cast aside. These exiled Liberal senators were no longer positioned to advise the government with the wisdom of their cumulative parliamentary experience, and Prime Minister Trudeau’s government has suffered repeatedly for that loss.
With that one knee-jerk decision, Mr. Trudeau started to unravel 150 years of parliamentary tradition in the Senate. He appointed senators who call themselves “independent” senators, ostensibly without Liberal Party affiliations, although plenty had still made healthy donations to the Liberal Party’s maximum-donor Laurier Club, others were former Liberal candidates and executive members and several had past affiliations with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation established by the Prime Minister’s own family.
Fast-forward to today. We now have five different caucuses in this place, and those “independent” senators have organized themselves into groups because it is completely impractical to function any other way in the political institution of the Senate. The government caucus consists of three supposedly non-affiliated senators, led by a “representative” who is really the government Senate leader by another name. Each group of independents — which we would formerly have called a caucus, except some think we can’t use terms from the “before times” anymore — has a facilitator and a liaison, new made-up terms to represent the centuries-old traditional parliamentary roles of leader and whip.
I’m still never sure which is which, but whichever one is the whip supposedly can’t “whip” anything, given that the “non‑caucus” caucus supposedly doesn’t vote en masse — except when they do, most of them more than 95% of the time with the Trudeau government. It’s a bit like we’ve all fallen down a fantastical rabbit hole.
In any case, Bill S-4 proposes to write all of this into the Parliament of Canada Act and fund it all. In fact, the total cost of the Senate has ballooned under the Trudeau government. Part of the reason for this is that previously, the Senate only funded two caucuses: government and opposition. Now, in Prime Minister Trudeau’s so-called “independent” Senate, the taxpayer has to fund five caucuses: government, opposition, Independent Senators Group, Canadian Senators Group and Progressive Senate Group. Each group already receives significant group budgets, but under Bill S-4, now all the leadership of those new caucuses will receive additional taxpayers’ dollars.
Unlike the government and the opposition, the other three caucuses don’t have a specific role in Parliament. They also claim to be comprised of individual “independent” senators who don’t hold joint caucus positions on issues or vote together. Why, then, do they each need a “liaison” who plays the role of a whip? If they have no communal policy positions, why do their leadership offices hire policy and communications staff for their caucuses — I mean, groups? Now the Trudeau government is proposing that we enshrine this in the Parliament of Canada Act. What has been 150 years of parliamentary tradition and history is being cast aside for the whims of Justin Trudeau. It’s so disheartening.
Further, the new terms used to create additional leadership positions in non-opposition caucuses are not even defined under Bill S-4 — words like, for example, “liaison,” “facilitator,” “representative” or “parliamentary group.” A liaison between whom? A “representative” to or of what? The words “facilitator” and “liaison” even seem like synonyms. Everyone knows what a leader or a whip is in the Parliament of Canada Act, because those words have been used for decades, but these new terms are confusing.
In the Senate, a key part of our job is to provide close scrutiny of laws, yet we can’t even provide proper definitions in the government legislation that governs this chamber? I find that really disappointing.
The Trudeau government’s attempt to pass Bill S-4 as soon as possible exhibits its desire to see a diminished opposition role in the Senate. It was not that long ago when the sponsor of this bill, Senator Harder, then the government leader in the Senate, self-styled as the Government Representative, prepared two different discussion papers — one in 2017, the other in 2018 — detailing the Trudeau government’s plans to destroy the opposition.
In his paper, Sober Second Thinking: How the Senate Deliberates and Decides, Senator Harder wrote that the:
. . . seismic shift in Senate membership has brought with it a spirited desire to proceed efficiently with the work that Parliament performs on behalf of Canadians and to make procedural obstruction a thing of the past.
Right — a more “efficient” Senate that makes “. . . procedural obstruction a thing of the past.” Or that makes an opposition “. . . a thing of the past,” to avoid “procedural obstructions” like debate and protest — you know, those pesky features of democracy that get in the way of a government being “efficient” sometimes.
That discussion paper seemed to echo Senator Harder’s words from the year prior. In a 2016 appearance before the Senate’s Modernization Committee, then government leader of the Senate Harder said:
In my view, in a more independent, complementary and less partisan Senate, there will no longer be an organized and disciplined government caucus, and, correspondingly, there should no longer be an organized official opposition caucus.
Given that Senator Harder is now the sponsor of the legislation before us, aiming to change the Parliament of Canada Act to reflect our “new reality,” his earlier words cause me greater concern. Senator Harder was Prime Minister Trudeau’s government leader in the Senate when that majority government tried to force through changes unilaterally to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. It resulted in a six-week filibuster in a House committee before the Trudeau government finally had to withdraw their proposal.
I believe Bill S-4 dilutes the official opposition’s powers under the Parliament of Canada Act by giving equal powers to other groups who do not have defined roles in the Senate. It devalues the role of opposition through incremental erosion rather than a full-on attack. Ultimately, the destruction of the role of official opposition in the Senate would essentially mean that the Prime Minister is appointing his own opposition. That’s absurd, and it’s certainly not democratic.
Furthermore, under Prime Minister Trudeau’s changes to the Senate, the government Senate leader is no longer accountable to anyone. Previously, when the government leader was part of a partisan caucus and a member of cabinet, the lines of accountability were clear. The government Senate leader was fully briefed by the government and attended cabinet and national caucus meetings. He or she was accountable to the government, to cabinet and to the Prime Minister who had appointed each senator. Now, of course, the Senate government leader only attends cabinet meetings, “As appropriate and as invited,” which was Senator Harder’s fancy way of saying, “next to never.”
Senator Gold, on the other hand, tells us almost daily in Question Period that he will “make enquiries” with the government. It routinely takes six to eight months for him to get those answers and report back to senators. Why is the Senate so far down on the list of Trudeau government priorities that they can’t answer our questions in a more timely manner? It’s clear that the changes to the Senate made by Prime Minister Trudeau help his Liberal government dodge accountability, perhaps explaining why the Trudeau government wants to write these changes into the Parliament of Canada Act now.
Before Prime Minister Trudeau came into power, the government leader in the Senate actually gave substantial speeches on most government legislation before the chamber, in addition to the sponsor’s speech. This gave senators the opportunity to question and debate the government’s position on bills. Now that job is largely left to the sponsors of bills, who ostensibly have no link to the government and no real ability to answer on the government’s behalf.
But even without the support of the government’s information, the independent senators who sponsor bills are expected to toe the line. Often, those “independent” senators carry the Trudeau government’s water in making last-minute amendments to government legislation at clause by clause at a Senate committee . Most of these amendments aren’t coming from the desks of independent senators — they’re coming directly from the Trudeau government. A lot of these amendments wouldn’t be necessary if this government legislation had been properly drafted in the first place. But instead, the number of amendments is touted by the Trudeau government as proof that the new “independent” Senate is more productive. I don’t think so. All of these changes are diminishing the accountability of the government and the effectiveness of the Senate. But that was the point, wasn’t it? Fewer obstructions to stand in the way of a Trudeau PMO determined to have its way.
Honourable senators, the traditional Westminster parliamentary system of a government and opposition is foundational to the Senate. Constantly chipping away at the foundation will lead a structure to fall. As parliamentarians, we bear the responsibility for preserving our democratic traditions in this chamber for the benefit of all Canadians. Let’s use our sober second thought to do that. Thank you.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Hon. Raymonde Saint-Germain: Dear colleagues, I want to speak briefly to acknowledge the collaboration that began in 2017 with the government in order to enshrine the modern-day reality of the Senate in the Parliament of Canada Act. In particular, I want to acknowledge Senator Marc Gold and his team for their hard work, which has paid off. I also want to thank Senator Yuen Pau Woo who, with the support of the Independent Senators Group, has been diplomatically and steadily working on this file since 2017.
We are glad to see the actions and the commitment of the government through Bill S-4. To that end, I also want to extend my gratitude to the Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable George J. Furey, to all the leaders of the other caucuses and groups and finally to Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who acted with a clear understanding of the importance of this legislative update.
I believe Bill S-4 strikes a good compromise between progress and tradition, not doing away with the history of this institution while updating the way in which we have been performing our duties as parliamentarians. It does not dissolve the important and historic role of the opposition, but rather promotes collegial work and collaboration among all groups and caucuses. In my time in this chamber, I have witnessed this collegiality as well as the added value the Senate brings with its vast diversity it has in expertise, experience and opinion.
All things considered, this bill is mainly about ensuring fairness and equity for all those groups and caucuses and, therefore, for all senators. It is something I know all of us can get behind.
I take this opportunity to express my hope that, in their study of this bill, the elected members of the House of Commons will take into consideration the benefits of updating the governance of the Senate. The role of the Senate is to be a chamber of sober second thought and I believe the best way to fulfill this duty is to act in a complementary way. Bill S-4, and the changes it will bring into law, will help develop this complementarity between our two chambers of Parliament. We each have our roles to play.
Colleagues, this bill will ensure more fairness and independence to this institution. Now the rest is up to us. We are, after all, in the Senate, masters of our own destiny. It is therefore our responsibility to better the Senate for the benefit of Canadians. We have to ensure it is open to the healthy clash of ideas, while maintaining the modern governance that fits the contemporary needs of democratic institutions. Updating the Parliament of Canada Act is another step towards this ideal of a modernized Senate. Colleagues, this is why I conclude by calling the question on Bill S-4.
Some Hon. Senators: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.
An Hon. Senator: On division.
(Motion agreed to and bill read third time and passed, on division.)
Bill to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Regulation Adapting the Canada Elections Act for the Purposes of a Referendum (voting age)
Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator McPhedran, seconded by the Honourable Senator Loffreda, for the second reading of Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Regulation Adapting the Canada Elections Act for the Purposes of a Referendum (voting age).
Hon. David M. Wells: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Regulation Adapting the Canada Elections Act for the Purposes of a Referendum (voting age).
This bill seeks to lower the federal voting age from 18 to 16. For my colleagues who may not be aware, youth engagement and outreach have always been a significant part of my life and I have always viewed my role as a legislator as an extension of community service, simply on a national scale.
It was my community involvement at a young age that piqued my interest in affecting positive change and working to make the lives of Canadians better, whether they are at-risk workers, students across the country, individuals struggling with mental health or any other Canadian. In my early 20s, I became a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, which is an organization that provided mentorship to over 41,000 Canadian youth this past year. In fact, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Newfoundland and Labrador was one of the community-minded organizations I awarded a Senate sesquicentennial medal for their important and often unrecognized work.
One of the children I mentored was a boy whose father was not around for him anymore. This was before I had children of my own and I felt it rewarding to be able to help foster joy, learning and growth in his life. We spent time playing sports, going to movies and talking about school, life and future. It was an experience I’ve carried throughout my life, as it demonstrated in a real, honest and tangible way, the kind of impact that can be created when you look outside of yourself and towards your communities and when you invest time, energy and care into our young people, who are the future of this great country.
This served as one of the many opportunities I’ve had to connect with youth to hear about their goals, interests and experiences and about their visions for Canada’s future. They are enthusiastic, optimistic and inventive. And I think I gained more from them than they have from me.
I very much enjoyed my youth outreach experiences with the Senate’s SENgage program. I am proud we run such a meaningful program that invites students to be active participants in the work we are doing here in the Senate. I’ve spoken with high school students in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and indeed across Canada.
I have also had the opportunity to present at and be involved in the first-ever model Senate, which took place in January 2020, along with Senator Martin, Senator Miville-Dechêne and Senator Pate. The students debated legislation, learned parliamentary procedure and investigated issues affecting our country. They did a great job. I remember being inspired at the thought that these current students and many others would soon be the ones debating real legislation, making key decisions and guiding our country through future challenges. I had the same feeling when I was involved in the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament over the years, back at the province’s House of Assembly. This thought and feeling of inspiration recur at each interaction I have with our future leaders.
These are just a few of the many opportunities that are currently available to our youth to get involved in Canada’s political landscape. Now, colleagues, as you know, I’m critic of Bill S-209, and there’s no way I’m going to stand here and say people under the age of 18 are incapable of making sound and well-informed decisions on who their political leaders should be, or that they shouldn’t be part of Canada’s political process.
In fact, in many ways they already are. For those who feel a partisan connection, Canadians as young as 14 can gain membership in one of our political parties. Regardless of the political party, this is a rewarding opportunity for young people. This provides an outlet to have their voices heard in shaping policy, to be involved in leadership races, to attend information sessions and events, and to see if the values and goals of that party align with theirs. It is a great way to test the waters of supporting a party to see how it fits. If the party that a 14- or 15-year-old chooses to join doesn’t feel quite right, that provides ample opportunity to find one that is a good fit before eventually casting their first ballot.
There are also other partisan and non-partisan ways for Canadian youth to get politically involved prior to voting. They can join or start a school political club, help with local campaigns, sign petitions, attend public meetings of elected officials, and volunteer within the political process as an election official or a poll worker.
Two of my sons joined the Conservative Party of Canada when they turned 14. I was pleased about that. My first political involvement was in the early 1970s. I was 12 years old and I stuffed envelopes and put them in people’s mailboxes in what was then known as St. John’s West. One excellent tool that many Canadians may not be aware of is the Register of Future Electors. It was created in April 2019 and is an optional registry that Canadians aged 14 to 17 can join. Then, once future electors become eligible electors, when they turn 18, they are added to the National Register of Electors.
This Register of Future Electors can be used as a way for youth to make an informal commitment to themselves that they will vote once they become eligible. We should encourage this and also streamline the process for inclusion in this registry so that it is accessible to more Canadian youth.
We should focus on encouraging youth involvement in these opportunities and on creating more. According to Statistics Canada, “Younger people were more likely than older people to participate in non-electoral civic and political activities.” So we should do everything we can to promote and support their involvement.
Our young people enjoy this type of involvement. It allows them to learn about the political system prior to voting in their first election. It creates opportunities to develop political views and beliefs that may be different from their parents and friends and unique to them, and it encourages them to dig deep and consider some important questions. There’s no minimum age to get involved in non-electoral civic and political activities.
It’s true, as some of my honourable colleagues have also stated, that voting rates among Canada’s youngest are the lowest in Canada. This is a significant problem because in order to have a democracy that is truly representing the electorate, members of the electorate must make their voices heard through casting their ballots. Research from the Library of Parliament states that:
From 1980 to 2015, Canada’s youngest voters turned out for federal general elections in numbers well below the turnout rate for all other demographic groups. Although youth voter turnout was significantly higher for the 42nd general election in 2015 than in previous years, it was still below the overall voter participation rate. This disengagement by Canadian young people from participation in the electoral process has acted as a significant downward drag on overall turnout figures.
By looking at voter turnout by demographic over time, we can see some troubling trends in the data. Between the federal elections of 1984 and 2000, voter turnout rates for 18- to 29‑year-olds declined sharply, according to the Library of Parliament. The turnout rate for the 18- to 24-age cohort fell by approximately 20 percentage points. This decrease has not corrected itself.
While I agree this is a problem in our democracy, I disagree with this proposed solution. In fact, I don’t see how it could be considered a solution. By lowering the voting age to 16, yes, the sheer number of young Canadians voting may increase. What would that do to help the actual turnout rates? We would simply be expanding the size of the electorate instead of working to increase voter turnout among the young people currently in our electorate.
Senator McPhedran, the sponsor of this bill, stated in her second reading speech that lowering the voting age could help to “ . . . produce habits of long-term civic engagement.” However, I argue that we should be working to develop these habits at an even younger age through civic engagement activities that I’ve mentioned and through creating more of these opportunities. We should be encouraging Canadian youth to be excited and ready to take on the responsibility of voting when they turn 18. This is critical to our democratic process, and we should be doing everything we can to teach, mentor and grow our youth leaders, and to put structures of involvement in place prior to handing them the significant responsibility of voting.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2013, just over one half of youth aged 15 to 19 and 20 to 24 indicated that they were at least somewhat interested in politics, compared to three quarters of seniors aged 65 to 74. We should be working to increase political engagement and interest among this young cohort so that the youth feel ready and prepared to vote by the time they are 18.
There are so many meaningful ways for youth to get involved in our political system, and we should be constantly emphasizing this. The last thing we would want to do is send a message that voting in federal elections every four or so years is the only way to get involved in civic life as a citizen of this country. That is exactly the message that we should be working to change. Civic involvement is a day-to-day task and a responsibility that is fulfilling. It means looking out for our fellow Canadians, taking an interest in local and national issues and making their voice and the voices of others heard.
Senator McPhedran stated in her speech that:
. . . the benefit of parenting a newly enfranchised voter is that the parent is more likely to vote more regularly and in the same elections.
She also stated that this would, in turn, increase voter turnout. While this could potentially be a by-product of passing this bill, it should not be the reason for it.
A decision like changing the voting age is influential to the future of our democracy, and I believe such decisions must be made based on guiding principles. If the goal is to increase voter turnout among adults or parents, we should work to do that through civic programming, encouraging community involvement and making our democracy more relevant.
Honourable senators, throughout the debates on this bill, you may have wondered why 18 is the current voting age in Canada. Without understanding the background of this, it may seem arbitrary, like it could easily, and interchangeably, be 15, 16, 17 or 19, with no noticeable difference in our democracy. An article published on the Elections Canada website, written by Kees Aarts and Charlotte van Hees, two researchers from the Netherlands, explains some of this necessary background. Discussing elections in the electorate, the article states that there are two criteria that currently have a global consensus. One is the minimum voting age of 18 years. That’s on the Elections Canada website, colleagues. While Canada’s legislature should not make its decisions based on the working of external bodies in other countries, it’s important to understand the global research being done on this issue. In a world that can feel increasingly divided, and where disagreement and conflict are widespread, it feels necessary to acknowledge a rare global consensus.
The article does note that there are some exceptions to this consensus. I asked the Library of Parliament to investigate this, and they provided a list of countries that have a federal voting age below 18. There are only 11 countries that fall into this category. One of these countries is North Korea, and in 2019, the BBC described the elections as a “‘no-choice’ parliamentary election” where “turnout is always close to 100% and approval for the governing alliance is unanimous.” The article goes on to say:
Once it’s your turn, you receive a ballot paper with just one name on it. There’s nothing to fill in, no boxes to tick. You take that paper and put it into the ballot box, which is located in the open.
There’s also a voting booth where you could vote in private, but doing that would raise immediate suspicion, analysts say.
Colleagues, an election like this, of course, would never happen in Canada, but this demonstrates how the vast majority of democracies around the world view the qualifications of electors in the same way that our legislature has, with a non-electoral civic engagement taking place before the age of 18 and with voting in elections starting at that age.
This is the conclusion that Canada’s Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, also known as the “Lortie Commission,” came to in its report to cabinet in 1991. It used four criteria in determining who should vote, describing them as cornerstones of electoral law. They are: one, holding a stake in the governance of society; two, the ability to cast a rational and informed vote; three, conforming to the norms of responsible citizenship; four, maintaining impartiality of election officials.
The commission conducted thorough analysis of Canada’s voting age and whether it should be lowered, which included an examination of Canada’s other laws to understand what is permitted and what is not permitted for the 16- and 17-year-old minors in Canada. The analysis resulted in the commission’s recommendation 1.2.9 which states, “We recommend that the voting wage be set at 18 years of age.”
I understand that a lot has changed and been updated in our country since 1991, as is true in all forward-thinking and modern democracies. However, I believe that this analysis, and the recommendation from the Lortie Commission, is still valid today as the criteria on which the recommendation was based remains unchanged.
This brings me to my final point about Bill S-209. This bill, if passed, colleagues, will make a significant change to the qualifications of electors, the conduct of elections and the makeup of the electorate. Yet, colleagues, it is being introduced in the unelected chamber.
To provide some context, I’d like to use the example of another bill. On May 6, just one month ago, Senator Harder spoke on Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts. As we know, colleagues, that bill relates to the operations of this chamber.
During his speech, Senator Harder stated:
The government rightfully determined that Bill S-4 should originate in the Senate. It deals with the Senate’s institutional framework and organizational processes, and should be discussed and debated here first by those most affected.
Similarly, Minister Dominic LeBlanc just last Thursday expressed similar sentiments during the Committee of the Whole testimony on Bill S-4, where he stated:
I obviously defer to you and your colleagues in the Senate as to how the Senate chooses to structure itself. That’s why we thought it was important to have this legislation debated and, ultimately, we hope, adopted by the Senate. Then we’ll obviously make best efforts to do the same in the House.
He further added that Bill S-4 is:
. . . born in and of the Senate in the sense that, if the Senate didn’t achieve a consensus amongst the different groups and the leaders representing those groups, the House of Commons wasn’t going to opine itself on matters that affect directly and only the Senate.
And that he would be governed by our chamber’s voting “. . . if and when the Senate opines itself on this legislation.”
There is a precedent for this. Bills that significantly impact the working of one chamber should be introduced and first debated in that chamber. Senator McPhedran also acknowledged this precedent in her second reading speech on Bill S-209, stating:
While there have been previous private members’ bills to lower the voting age to 16, they have all originated in the other place.
Regardless of your thoughts or opinions on the substance of this bill, we must acknowledge that moving it forward through the Senate would be a procedural anomaly. We must leave the elections up to the elected chamber. Bills similar to Bill S-209 have been introduced in the other place before. They will likely be introduced again, but we must provide our colleagues there with the autonomy to initiate and lead that effort if there is such an interest.
It is for these reasons that I am putting forth an amendment to this bill. It is a reasoned amendment, which is one of three types of amendments that may be moved at second reading. It opposes the principle of the bill. Reading from the Senate Procedure in Practice document, a reasoned amendment:
. . . allows a senator to state the reasons for opposing second (or third) reading of a bill by introducing another relevant proposal that replaces the original question.
It is important to note that a reasoned amendment opposing the principle of the bill must be introduced at second reading, which, colleagues, is why I’m doing this here today.
Introducing a bill to significantly change the qualifications of electors in Canada is something that must be left up to the elected chamber.
Motion in Amendment
Hon. David M. Wells: Therefore, honourable senators, in amendment, I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefore:
“Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Regulation Adapting the Canada Elections Act for the Purposes of a Referendum (voting age), be not now read a second time because a proposal which so fundamentally impacts the conduct of elections in this country, specifically the qualifications of electors, should more properly be introduced first in the elected chamber, namely the House of Commons.”
Hon. Pat Duncan: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to my colleagues with gratitude and respect from the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council.
Prior to addressing the amendment and the motion, I would like to thank my colleagues today for their courage and grace in their honouring the 215 children lost to the disgrace of Canada’s residential school system. I will attend the sacred fire honouring these lives later today and will share your wise words and wisdom with them.
Honourable senators, I rise to address Bill S-209, Senator Wells’ amendment suggesting this be referred to the House of Commons and the main motion lowering the voting age in Canada in federal elections to 16.
A woman who served Canada in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, a distinguished reporter and writer, mayor of Whitehorse, a member of the executive committee of the Yukon Territorial Council, one of the founders of the Yukon Transportation Museum, the late Florence E. Whyard, also a recipient of the Order of Canada, was a good friend of our family. Flo, as she was known, gifted me a T-shirt for my thirtieth birthday. On the front was written, “No woman, idiot, lunatic or criminal shall have the right to vote. Canada Elections Act 1918.”
Honourable senators, especially those who have run marathons or engaged in sports with their children will be familiar with the expression “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and now I’ve washed the car with it.” The T-shirt that Flo gifted me was extra, extra large and bright purple. Upon our marriage, it was appropriated by my husband, and he did wear it while washing the car.
Quite entirely by chance, he also happened to be wearing it as he drove me over to the returning office the day I filed my first nomination papers seeking election to the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
I share that story with you, colleagues, to demonstrate that the T-shirt and the expression upon it is a much-loved possession, although it is now just a tattered piece that is destined for either a T-shirt quilt or to be framed.
It is important for so many reasons. It reminds me of the tremendous contributions of public service made by our friend Flo Whyard and many other Yukon women like Audrey McLaughlin; Margaret Joe; and Lorraine Netro, a member of the Vuntut Gwitchin who served in the legislative assembly — my former colleague — and recently received the Glen Davis Conservation Leadership Prize. It makes me think of the Famous Five and the Persons Case. Most important, that phrasing in Canadian law serves as inspiration to remind me that legislatures do not always get it right, and sometimes the law needs to change.
I’d like to thank Senator McPhedran for her tireless, solid work on this bill, on bringing this idea forward and especially for pledging to continue the discussion until change occurs. I’d also like to thank Senator Wells and other colleagues for their very thoughtful remarks and insights on this subject.
The evidence and information from the August 2020 Children First Canada paper and the presentation to our group from Dr. Eva Zeglovits of Austria have formed part of my information gathering on this subject. In April, Senator McPhedran, and Senator Patterson from Nunavut, along with other senators and I, joined with Inukshuk High School teacher Patrick McDermott and his Nunavut students via Zoom. We appreciated their excellent presentation on Bill S-209 on lowering the voting age.
Honourable senators, I was saddened to see such a low level of engagement by young Yukoners in the March to April 2020 Children First Canada consultation on this subject. As is my habit in providing sober second thought, I initiated my own discussions with youth in the Yukon. This is a work in progress. I can, however, share with senators some of the information I’ve gathered to date. Some of these comments I’d like to share with you specifically:
I think this bill needs to be passed, because right now, even though we do not hold that many votes — 2.9% of the population — in the long run, we will be informed, willing adults who want to vote for a government we can believe in.
I found these thoughts from one student especially apropos:
I’d like to start by arguing that youth around the age of 16 are currently leading major political movements, including pride, Black Lives Matter and Fridays for Future.
I note that it was students from this same school who inspired and organized protests that led the Yukon Legislative Assembly to ban conversion therapy — the first jurisdiction in Canada to do so.
Speaking of inspiring change, this student wrote to me, noting:
If youth could have a say in politics, it will wake up politicians and let them see that many youth want change. A good example of wanting change would be the concerning and worldwide problem of climate change. Old people don’t really have to take this problem as seriously anymore since they won’t be present on this planet for that much longer, but youth are the future and have a whole lifetime in front of them.
Colleagues, Senator Coyle, Senator Galvez and others, I commit to you that I will share your efforts in encouraging Canada to address climate change with this student. I believe we are not too old to make change.
There was one student with an out-of-the-ordinary idea. This student was drawn to the idea of lowering the voting age to 16; however, they believed the idea could use some fine tuning. The student wrote:
Just like I can drive with many recognized that me and others are both very capable and developing, it could be a good idea to introduce youth to voting through municipal elections, where the stakes are much lower and the impact much more local.
I truly appreciate every opportunity I have to speak with young Yukoners and to gather and share these ideas with you. I support the principle of this bill and the thought of referring it to the committee for further study rather than an amendment sending it to the other house for initiation. I especially look forward to further discussions with Yukon students about it.
My work in this area was somewhat delayed this year, not only because my visits to schools were restricted because of the pandemic, but discretion being the better part of valour, I also delayed further discussions during the recent territorial elections. Now, although the school year is drawing to a close, I have written to the principals and civics teachers to remind them of these discussions, and I indicated, as Senator McPhedran has done, that I anticipate this discussion continuing for some time and that I will continue to gather their views.
Before I close, I will share with you all a final point on this discussion. Honourable senators will be aware that of the 14 Yukon First Nations 11 are self-governing, with modern-day treaty agreements with Canada and the Yukon. The constitutions of 3 out of the 14 First Nations provide for citizens to vote at age 16.
I had the opportunity recently to ask Chief Steve Smith of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations how voting at age 16 came about for their First Nations, which is also one of the first four Yukon First Nations to reach a land claim agreement. He credited the more open perspective to his predecessors, recognizing that voting evolved from a young councillor’s desire to involve all youth and have a lower voting age. He also told me that by voting earlier, youth have continued their active involvement in the government and leadership of their First Nations.
Honourable senators, our esteemed former colleague Senator Sinclair advised that education would be part of our journey to reconciliation. Let’s take the education and learn the lessons from the First Nations and their respect for youth participation. Let us value their opinions and continue the discourse on lowering the voting age. Rather than proceeding with Senator Wells’ amendment, let us begin the discussion by defeating the amendment and accepting the main motion. Then let us continue our discussion and send Bill S-209 to a committee for further discussion and study.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to offer these comments. Gùnáłchîsh. Mahsi’cho.
Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: I have not prepared a speech and had not planned on speaking, but I feel a need to make some comments in response to Senator Wells’ speech.
The minimum voting age issue is a fundamental one, but I think that we need to look at the concept of age from a broader perspective. For example, in Quebec, a child can receive medical treatment without parental consent as of the age of 14. At the same age, children can refuse medical treatment to which their parents consented, even if it will lead to their death. In many provinces, including Quebec, children can get a driver’s licence at 16, drive around in a car and put the safety of others at risk.
In many U.S. states, people cannot drink until they are 21, but are able to obtain and carry a firearm at 16 or 18.
Honourable senators, age is not a magical concept. Rather, it refers to a degree of maturity and a body of knowledge and learning opportunities. I do not know what is the perfect voting age or whether 18 is too old or too young. However, I believe that it is worth studying this matter and hearing from witnesses.
Psychiatrists will tell you that the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 21. Must we therefore prohibit people from voting before the age of 21? This bill raises a lot of questions. I think that an in-depth examination would be more advisable than to defeat the bill at second reading. A committee could hear witnesses, ask questions and prepare a constructive report, while participating in the debates on a very important question: What place do we give young people in our society?
For example, Senator Wells spoke of young people who become members of political parties at 14 and who vote as party members in leadership races. However, since they do not have the right to vote in the next election for the leader they chose, their party leader, they are not really able to participate in the process or see their chosen leader become leader of the government.
Still, it is quite amazing to see that at conventions, up to 33% of membership spots within certain political parties are reserved for young people who can vote on policy issues that later become the party’s official policies.
I think it would be a bit premature to defeat the bill at this stage. I therefore invite my colleagues to defeat this amendment. However, I am very sympathetic to Senator Wells’ argument that knowing who can vote in an election is an issue that legitimately belongs to the elected members and the political parties. However, that does not preclude the Senate from conducting a study on the issue, and that is what this bill allows us to do. The report that would follow this study would allow us to contribute to the collective reflection and analysis, including that of MPs.
I urge my colleagues to defeat this amendment.
(On motion of Senator White, debate adjourned.)
Health-Centred Approach to Substance Use Bill
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Boniface, seconded by the Honourable Senator Woo, for the second reading of Bill S-229, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy for the decriminalization of illegal substances, to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
Hon. Tony Dean: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Bill S-229, the health-centred approach to substance use act. First, let me thank Senator Boniface for her extraordinary leadership on this important piece of legislation. In her speech the other evening she drew on her years of experience as a senior police officer and leader, and highlighted the complexities of this issue that drive the need for a multifaceted and phased response. That is exactly what her bill would suggest.
While the COVID-19 pandemic rages, Canada is also in the midst of another epidemic brought on by the proliferation of opiates in the street supply of drugs. These toxic compounds are cut into drugs that end up on the streets of large cities in suburban and rural areas and can lead to higher instances of overdose and death. There is evidence to suggest that over time these opiates have become consistently more potent, allowing the user to experience a greater high while consequently making the drug more addictive. As a result, there is a greater risk to the user’s health.
While this crisis has now reached a breaking point, it has been a problem for decades. Indeed, the origin of the crisis began in the 1990s with the introduction of prescription opioids by pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma, who claimed these painkillers were not addictive and therefore could be prescribed at higher rates. When it became clear that patients were abusing these opiates because they were addictive, health care providers undertook to limit prescriptions. The result is that many people with addictions were pushed to the street where they are able to obtain cheaper and more potent opioids like fentanyl, and later carfentanil. Using street opioids instead of prescribed medical-grade opioids placed users at exceptionally higher risk of overdose.
The crisis continues today, honourable senators. Substance use has consistently risen over the past decade, and with it we have seen a rise in incidents with police, arrests and charges. Today it has reached a critical point, in large part due to the lockdown restrictions and forced isolation measures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, from January to September 2020, there were 4,395 overdoses compared with 3,831 in all of 2019. A report from Public Health Ontario found that 695 people in Ontario died of a confirmed or suspected opioid-related death in the first 15 weeks of the pandemic alone, a 38% increase compared to the 15 weeks before the pandemic.
As we saw with cannabis, it’s clear that the war on drugs approach is not working. Rather, a harm-reduction approach is needed. I should note that there have already been isolated attempts to address the crisis using public health measures through the development of safe injection sites and policies of safe drug supply. These are important measures that are saving lives, but they are not enough. It’s clear that a comprehensive strategy including all levels of government and all relevant stakeholders will be required to effectively address this crisis. A comprehensive strategy is what Senator Boniface is recommending.
Honourable senators, I approach this issue with the same lenses I used with Bill C-45, those of health, social policy and social justice. I’ve already discussed the health lens; the proliferation of dangerous opiates in street drugs increases the risk to users’ health and a chance of overdosing. From a social lens, the opioid crisis is having a devastating impact on individuals and communities. Poverty, lack of secure housing, poor mental health and substance abuse issues are only some of the social determinants that can increase the risk of an individual using harmful substances.
A recent survey from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that 47% of respondents had increased their use of psychoactive substances during COVID-19, and 38% said they believed that they were more at risk to overdose due to supply disruptions. Furthermore, 7% stated that they had relapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers estimate that one of the factors in relapse is the amount of time spent alone and isolated while under pandemic restrictions. The unaccompanied use of drugs also increases the risk of overdose. In addition, there is still a strong sense of stigma associated with substance abuse disorders, and individuals are often unwilling or unable to get help.
From a justice lens, criminalization for possession of illegal substances carries significant harms for the user and for their family. Incarceration can have serious consequences for an individual’s prospects and their ability to rejoin society and obtain employment. Treating a substance use disorder as a legal issue rather than a public health issue will not allow the individual to get the help they need, and it places significant strain on law enforcement services. Most importantly, we know that criminalization has not reduced the number of arrests for possession of illegal substances. Indeed, the opposite has occurred. In particular, arrests for possession of methamphetamine and heroin have increased over the past decade, while substance use incidents in general also have steadily increased. As we have seen time and time again, criminalization is not an effective deterrent to using illegal substances.
It’s clear that a new approach is needed, and I believe that Bill S-229 strikes the right balance. The bill would mandate the Minister of Health to create a national strategy for decriminalization of simple possession of illegal substances, and it would repeal provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that relate to these charges. The bill would ensure that decriminalization takes place while giving ample time to the relevant stakeholders to put support mechanisms in place to prepare for it.
Honourable senators, a national strategy would ensure that governments at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels are collaborating on this important public health issue. In addition, consultation would be required with health experts, the police, Indigenous communities, relevant organizations, regulatory bodies and individuals with substance use disorders. This would ensure that the strategy would be comprehensive providing policy-makers with a good understanding of the public health measures needed to properly address the crisis beyond just decriminalizing illegal substances.
Speaking of decriminalization, let’s be clear what this means. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, decriminalization consists of non-criminal responses such as fines and warnings for designated activities such as possession of small quantities of a controlled substance. Furthermore, the CCSA states that:
Decriminalization aims to decrease harm by removing mandatory criminal sanctions, often replacing them with responses that promote access to education and to harm reduction and treatment services. It is not a single approach or intervention; rather it describes a range of principles, policies and practices that can be implemented in various ways.
Colleagues, it is this sort of sophistication and integrated approach that Senator Boniface foresees in this foresightful bill.
Some senators may fear that decriminalization would encourage use, but it’s important to remember that this is not condoning the use of hard drugs, but rather ensuring the response is not one of punishment but of compassion.
Decriminalization is also supported by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police who tell us that:
The evidence suggests, and numerous Canadian health leaders support, decriminalization for simple possession as an effective way to reduce the public health and public safety harms associated with substance use.
In their July 2020 report, they concluded that decriminalization should be a key component in responding to the opioid crisis, but also that it is one of a number of policy tools already being implemented across the country, including safe injection sites, safe supply and diversion programs. The report states that:
In a decriminalized environment, frontline policing would likely assume increased responsibility to divert people . . . from substance use disorder into treatment.
The CACP also makes it clear that decriminalization should not be a stand-alone policy, but that there must be support systems in place such as addiction treatment programs that will operate as alternatives to incarceration.
Furthermore, as Senator Boniface told us, the report also emphasized that treatment facilities are established and operational before decriminalization takes effect. This is the way the bill is designed. Because of this, the bill requires that decriminalization comes into force on a day determined by the Governor-in-Council. Senators, this is why the national strategy is a key component of this bill. It will ensure that policy-makers can lay the groundwork for those support systems in order to develop a successful decriminalization model.
Finally, senators may wonder why this bill is necessary when the government introduced Bill C-22 just recently. That bill would repeal minimum penalties for certain drug offences, but would also require police and prosecutors to consider alternatives to laying charges in simple possession cases such as a diversion to addiction treatment programs. So why is Bill S-229 necessary?
Bill C-22 would leave the decision to charge and prosecute possession of illegal substances in the hands of police and prosecutors. It would also give the courts leeway to use conditional sentence orders in a case where an individual is not a public safety threat.
As the CACP makes clear, there is an urgent need for decriminalization but also for treatment programs and support services that will properly address the crisis. Bill S-229 would ensure that the national strategy determines the best way forward for Canada.
Advocates have also been clear that decriminalization is the most effective way to ensure that individuals are not being criminalized for substance use, and the discretionary nature of Bill C-22 does not go far enough.
Honourable colleagues, I hope you will join me in supporting Bill S-229. This is a bill driven by data, and that was shared with us comprehensively by Senator Boniface. I’ve cited some data as well. It’s an approach that recognizes the need for a phased and a multi-layered approach to a complex health and social crisis and it eschews any sense of there being a quick or easy fix here. And isn’t it our instinct that there isn’t a quick and easy fix to this? It is complex, thorny and requires a comprehensive approach and that’s the approach laid out in the bill before us.
The opioid crisis has reached a breaking point. The statistics are shocking. It’s going to take time to put in place processes, mechanisms and funding to give life to this sophisticated proposal, but the sooner we start the process, the better. The sooner we start it, the more lives will be spared and more families will keep their loved ones. Let’s get this moving as soon as we can with a strong message of support. Thank you.
Hon. David Richards: Senator Dean, I have a comment and a question.
There is a real problem, Senator Dean, with methamphetamine addiction in my province and my area. It is so destructive, it is like a death sentence itself. Almost anyone who is on it is a public threat in one way or another and a threat to themselves. How would this bill in any way alleviate the crime and the destruction of families that happens? How would this bill alleviate that?
Senator Dean: Thank you, senator. You have described a situation that is unfolding across this country in small and large cities. It is affecting families, both rich and poor and middle income. We are not going to solve it with the current processes that are in place. Your question is a really good one. I would suggest that the only way we’re going to address this, to tackle it, is by introducing the sort of multi-faceted approach that Senator Boniface and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police are recommending to us.
It seems to me — and it struck me the other day — that we not only have the Canadian Association Chiefs of Police, but also three former chiefs of police in our Senate, advocating for this.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Thank you, your time has expired.
Senator Dean: Thank you, Your Honour.
(On motion of Senator Martin, debate adjourned.)
Bill to Amend—Second Reading
Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) moved the second reading of Bill S-230, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (granting citizenship to certain Canadians).
She said: Honourable senators, I’m honoured to rise today to speak to you about Bill S-230, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (granting citizenship to certain Canadians), a group referred to as Lost Canadians. The term “Lost Canadians,” according to The Canadian Encyclopedia, refers to people who either lost Canadian citizenship they had at birth or didn’t qualify for citizenship that would normally have been theirs by right in Canada.
This Senate public bill will address a specific gap in the Citizenship Act to capture a small group of Lost Canadians who should have been included when changes were made to Bill C-37 in 2009 — my first year as a senator. I didn’t understand the issues of Lost Canadians then. I have a better understanding today and I hope I can explain the urgency in supporting these Lost Canadians through the passage of this bill.
Before I continue, I would like to thank all those who have worked and continue to work tirelessly to support Lost Canadians who are among us.
I would like to acknowledge Don Chapman, one of the truest champions of Lost Canadians, as he himself had been a Lost Canadian. He has advocated tirelessly for these individuals and families of his own accord. When I first met him, he was passionate beyond description. I was a bit taken aback by his intensity. I said, “Can you tell me why this is so important to you?” This was around the time of Bill C-37, and I was on the committee that would study this bill. The one reason he gave helped me to understand from his point of view why he has been a tireless champion. He is a pilot by training, and he said, “If we land safely and only 99% of the passengers are safe and 1% are lost, then I have not done my job.” He himself was a Lost Canadian, but he says we must persist until all Lost Canadians have been reinstated, as is their right. I want to acknowledge Don and his incredible work. He has since become a friend.
I wish to acknowledge the work of former speaker Noël Kinsella and former senators David Tkachuk and Art Eggleton, who were also champions of the Lost Canadians file.
I also wish to acknowledge the critic of this bill, our colleague Senator Ratna Omidvar, who is quite familiar with the plight of Lost Canadians as well. I thank her for the conversations we have had leading to this moment.
Bill S-230 specifically addresses a group of Canadians who have lost their status or became stateless because of changes to policies.
From 1947 to 1977, children born abroad acquired citizenship only in the event that their parents registered them as citizens within two years of their birth. They must also have been born in wedlock to a Canadian father, or out of wedlock to a Canadian mother.
In 1977, the government introduced a new Citizenship Act. Under the new act, children born abroad on or after February 14, 1977, received their Canadian citizenship if one of their parents was a Canadian citizen, regardless of their marital status. However, if the Canadian parent was also born abroad, this child had until the age of 28 to apply to retain their Canadian citizenship. If they did not apply before their twenty-eighth birthday, their citizenship would be stripped from them.
Some of the Canadians who were not aware of this rule may have had their citizenship taken away unbeknownst to them. These were events that happened and policy that affected people’s lives.
Section 8 of the Citizenship Act read:
Where a person who was born outside Canada after February 14, 1977 is a citizen for the reason that at the time of his birth one of his parents was a citizen by virtue of paragraph 3(1)(b) or (e), that person ceases to be a citizen on attaining the age of twenty-eight years unless that person
(a) makes application to retain his citizenship; and
(b) registers as a citizen and either resides in Canada for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the date of his application or establishes a substantial connection with Canada.
The law was passed, then forgotten. The government never published a retention form; there were no instructions on how an individual would reaffirm; and for those affected, they were never told a retention requirement existed.
In 2009, Bill C-37 made changes to the Citizenship Act and tried to fix the issue of these Lost Canadians.
On April 17, 2009, the rules for Canadian citizenship changed for persons born outside Canada to Canadian parents and who were not already Canadian citizens when the rules changed. These rules did not take Canadian citizenship away from any person who was a Canadian citizen immediately before the rules came into effect. Canadian citizenship by birth outside Canada to a Canadian citizen parent — citizenship by descent — is now limited to the first generation born outside of Canada.
This means that, in general, persons who were not already Canadian citizens immediately before April 17, 2009 — the enactment of Bill C-37 — and who were born outside Canada to a Canadian parent are not Canadian if the following conditions exist: their Canadian parent was also born outside Canada to a Canadian parent, and the person is therefore the second or subsequent generation born outside of Canada; or their Canadian parent was granted Canadian citizenship under section 5.1, the adoption provisions of the Citizenship Act — the person is therefore the second generation born outside Canada — unless their Canadian parent or grandparent was employed, as described in one of the following exceptions to the first-generation limit.
The first-generation limit to citizenship does not apply to a person born outside Canada in the second or subsequent generation if the following conditions exist: at the time of the person’s birth, their Canadian parent was employed outside of Canada in or with the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal public administration or the public service of a province or territory, other than as a locally engaged person — a Crown servant — or, at the time of their Canadian parents’ birth or adoption, the person’s Canadian grandparent was employed outside Canada in or with the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal public administration or public service of a province or territory, other than as a locally engaged person — a Crown servant.
The rules may also affect children adopted by Canadian parents outside Canada, depending on how the child obtained, or will obtain, citizenship.
Persons born to a Canadian parent who are not eligible for citizenship by descent due to the first-generation limit may apply for and obtain permanent resident status and subsequently submit an application for a grant of citizenship under section 5 of the Citizenship Act.
This change saw the age-28 rule repealed entirely. Canadians caught up in the age-28 rule but who had not yet reached that age were grandfathered in. However, Bill C-37 still left out a small group of Lost Canadians who were not included.
The group of Canadians who were born abroad between 1977 and 1981 — that is, those who turned 28 before Bill C-37 became law in 2009 — are the tiny group of individuals we are talking about in this legislation. Some of these individuals knew about the age-28 rule. They either applied to retain their citizenship or simply let it lapse. Others were not aware and subsequently lost their citizenship on their twenty-eighth birthday. Today, the age-28 retention rule still remains only for second-generation Canadians born inside a 50-month window from February 15, 1977, through April 16, 1981 — those who turned 28 before Bill C-37 became law.
Many of these individuals were raised in Canada from a young age. They went to school here, raised their families here, worked and paid taxes, and yet they turned 28 without knowing their citizenship would be stripped — no letter from Immigration Canada and no information given in advance that such a rule was in place for this group of Canadians. There are several cases I could tell you about today; however, I will refer to only two of them to give you an idea of the situation these Lost Canadians found themselves in.
Ms. Byrdie Funk was born in Mexico to two Canadian parents and was brought to Canada when she was only two months old. She grew up in southern Manitoba, where she went to school, made friends and learned to skate on the pond behind her house. Then, at age 36, she applied to renew her passport. Instead, she received a letter from the government explaining to her that she was no longer a Canadian citizen. She was 36, and the age-28 rule had applied.
Anneliese Demos is a 39-year-old mother of four who lives in Winnipeg. She works two jobs and pays income tax. She has lived in Manitoba since she was 2 years old but was born in Paraguay to Canadian parents.
In 2012, she applied for a passport to travel, which she was granted. Six years later, Ms. Demos received a letter from Citizenship and Immigration. The letter informed her that her passport was issued in error and that she was, in fact, not a Canadian citizen. The letter also requested she return her citizenship certificate — the one she received when she was 2 years old.
Ms. Demos and Ms. Funk both received a discretionary grant of citizenship from the minister and are once again Canadian citizens. These discretionary grants have happened on a case-by-case basis. The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has the discretion to grant citizenship to anyone in such special cases. This discretionary grant is to alleviate cases of statelessness or of special and unusual hardship, or to reward services of exceptional value to Canada.
However, this is not a solution to the issue these individuals are facing and does not protect these Lost Canadians. They are still living each day in fear that they could be deported from Canada. They do not have a social insurance number. They cannot access our health care system. They cannot get a job. They cannot travel and are living in limbo with their children.
Honourable colleagues, in conclusion, Bill S-230 will propose the following changes to the Citizenship Act to ensure that this small group of Lost Canadians are reinstated as Canadian citizens and given the same fairness and treatment as everyone else who did not fall within the 15-month window where the age-28 rule had applied and they were ineligible — that they had let their Canadian citizenship lapse because they turned 28 and they had not known.
The following amendments to the Citizenship Act are reflected in this bill:
1 (1) Subparagraph 3(1)(f)(iii) of the Citizenship Act is replaced by the following:
(iii) the person made an application to retain his or her citizenship under section 8 as it read before April 17, 2009, that subsequently was not approved;
(2) Subsection 3(1) of the Act is amended by adding the following after paragraph (g):
(g.1) the person was born outside Canada after February 14, 1977, and would be a citizen if he or she had made an application to retain his or her citizenship under section 8, as it read before April 17, 2009;
(3) Subsections 3(4) and (4.1) of the Act are replaced by the following:
(4) Subsection (3) does not apply to a person who was a citizen on June 11, 2015.
2 Subparagraph 27(1)(j.1)(i) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(i) who are citizens under paragraph 3(1)(f), (g) or (g.1),
Colleagues, these individuals are mothers, fathers, children, families and veterans who are still lost. They were not given the same fairness as the rest, who did not fall into the 15-month window and gap. Now is the time to fix this error. Some of the Lost Canadians have, sadly, died waiting. We do not want any more to die before they are given the rights that Canada as a country holds so dear and what makes our nation the vibrant, multicultural nation that it is.
Honourable senators, I ask for your support of this bill at second reading. Thank you.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Martin, will you take a question from Senator Dalphond?
Senator Martin: Yes.
Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: My question is about these Lost Canadians. Do you know the size of the group we are talking about?
Senator Martin: I don’t have an exact number, but it is just a 15-month window. These Lost Canadians, from February 15, 1977 to April 16, 1981, would have turned 28 years of age. Therefore, they were not captured in the repeal of the age-28 provision when we passed Bill C-37.
I don’t believe they number in the thousands. Maybe in the hundreds but perhaps even less. Some of them are not known to us, but we know that advocates hear from some of them. They are very much afraid of being deported because they are stateless. I can say it’s a small group, but I cannot confirm the number at this time.
Senator Dalphond: Thank you.
Hon. Ratna Omidvar: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-230, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (granting citizenship to certain Canadians), introduced by our colleague Senator Martin.
Before I comment on this bill, I would like to mark June 1 as a transformational day in the Senate. We have passed Bill S-4. We have held on to tradition where we have needed to, but we have also gone with confidence into the future. I want to thank our colleague, Senator Marc Gold, for his dedication to bringing this to our chamber.
I am the official critic for Bill S-230. I always think of a critic as someone who has something to object to. In truth, there is very little to object to in this bill, so I stand very much as a supporter of this long overdue piece of legislation.
When I became a senator in 2016, I started to get emails from Canadians who knew of my interest in citizenship. I heard the term Lost Canadians for the first time. I have to be honest, I was, frankly, lost when I heard that terminology because those of us who have found Canada know what a privilege it is to be Canadian. To have inadvertently lost your citizenship — because of what I can best describe as bureaucratic missteps and fumbling and lost opportunities — is unimaginable to me.
In June 2016, I rose in the chamber as the sponsor of the citizenship bill, Bill C-6, and I drew a picture of Canada and its citizenship as a house with a strong roof, a strong door, a lot of windows to let the sunshine in, but also to keep danger out. I believe that metaphor still stands today, but the foundations of this house are grounded in a few principles.
First and most important is equality amongst citizens. Equality sees all Canadians — by birth or naturalization, mono-citizens or dual citizens, whether citizens of 50 years, 10 years or 1 month — treated equally under the law. Equal rights, equal responsibility and, when necessary, equal punishment. These are not aspirational goals. This is the floor; the absolute foundation of how equality is expressed in Canada.
Second is the principle of facilitating citizenship, making it accessible for those who qualify. I think of this again as the main family room of the house: a big fire blazing to keep out the wretched cold and a big, welcoming door. However, for a few Canadians, the fire has lost its warmth, and they were inadvertently expelled, banished, so to say, from this house.
Many have lived in Canada for years, as Senator Martin has pointed out, without even realizing they may not have Canadian citizenship any longer. Although legislative fixes have tried to bring citizenship back in different ways, it has never captured everyone. This is a true example of the unintended, negative impact of legislation that we deal with in so many different ways.
When I rose to speak on Bill C-6, which was an omnibus citizenship act, former senator Willie Moore, who was with us, asked me whether or not Lost Canadians would be brought back into the fold. Sadly, I had to say to him, no, that was out of the scope of the bill.
After Bill C-6 was passed, former Senator Eggleton took it on and was almost ready to table the bill when his resignation date approached. Again, the bill was left orphaned, in a way. Since that time, Don Chapman and others have been talking to Senator Martin, Senator Jaffer and all of us to try to bring this back to our attention. I am incredibly grateful to Senator Martin for taking this bull by the horns and bringing our attention to it.
As we know, and as Senator Martin has explained, our immigration system is incredibly complex. Immigration law is complex. Within immigration law, there is citizenship law that is incredibly complex. It sometimes catches people in a net from which it is hard to escape.
As Senator Martin has explained, it’s a narrow bill. In 1977, the government introduced a new Citizenship Act. Under that act, children born abroad on or after February 14, 1977, received their Canadian citizenship if one of their parents was a Canadian citizen, regardless of their marital status.
However, if that Canadian parent was born outside Canada and, therefore, the child was what we would call second generation, the child had to apply for citizenship by the age of 28. If they did not put an application by age 28, their citizenship was taken away from them, often without them ever realizing it.
Later, in April 2009 — many years later, still trying to catch up on the problem — Bill C-37 changed the Citizenship Act again and repealed the age 28 rule. However, the bill didn’t completely deal with Canadians who were born abroad between that narrow window of 1977 and 1981, and who turned 28 before Bill C-37 became the law. Some of these individuals were well informed enough and applied for their citizenship. Others simply fell in between the cracks.
Senator Dalphond asked the question, how many are these? I’m also curious. My information is that there are definitely not thousands. There may even be just a few hundred. But I hope we all recognize, even for just a few hundred, how important it is to be able to be franchised as Canadians.
Many who were born overseas but raised in Canada had an entrenched life in Canada. They went to school here; they have jobs and families here. Their roots are firmly here. They have paid income taxes. But they were unaware of the issue — just as I’m often unaware of when my driver’s licence expires, and then I have to really struggle to regain it — which certainly happens to people. We are talking, as I said, about a few hundred people, at most.
The government relies, as Senator Martin has stated, on ministerial appointments. Every time I’ve spoken to every successive immigration minister, they have said, “It’s not a problem. I can deal with it. Send me the file.” But, colleagues, that is not a systemic way of dealing with an injustice of this kind. We need a law. Even though Byrdie Funk — someone whom I admire a great deal — and Anneliese Demos — the same — even though they had the agency, the voice, the capacity to advocate for themselves, I worry about those who do not, who cannot get the minister’s attention or that of his department. I think it is time for us to fix this in a systemic manner.
There are severe consequences for having to wait to get formal recognition back. While waiting to get your citizenship, you can’t have a social insurance number. You may not be able to get a job. You may not be able to travel. Likely you’re not able to travel because you don’t have a passport. You have limited access to health care. All this at the same time when there is always the threat of deportation hanging over you.
In the case of Byrdie Funk, it is not clear whether all her years of contribution to the Canada Pension Plan will be honoured when she gets her pension.
Bill S-230 will allow citizens who were born abroad and have built a life here to prove that they are Canadian and that they have the right to pass citizenship onto their children. It will not lead to a perpetual passage of Canadian citizenship to generations who may never live in Canada. This does nothing for third-generation Canadians.
Honourable senators, I urge you, in short, to support this bill and send it to committee for further study. Lost Canadians have already waited too long. Let’s bring them back into the Canadian fold sooner than rather later. Thank you.
Some Hon. Senators: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Are senators ready for the question?
Hon. Senators: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: It is moved by the Honourable Senator Martin, seconded by the Honourable Senator Carignan, that the bill be read the second time.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to and bill read second time.)
Referred to Committee
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the third time?
(On motion of Senator Martin, bill referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.)
Governor General’s Act
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Claude Carignan moved second reading of Bill S-232, An Act to amend the Governor General’s Act (retiring annuity and other benefits).
He said: Honourable senators, following the resignation of the Governor General, the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Canadians discovered a glaring inconsistency in the law. When a Governor General does not complete their usual five-year mandate, they are still entitled to a lifetime pension, which includes many financial benefits. On March 30, I introduced a bill to remedy that situation.
Like most Canadians, I was shocked to learn that, after resigning, the Governor General would be entitled to a lifetime pension of $150,000 per year and an annual allowance of $206,000 for hospitality expenses. I took exception to that and so there was no way that I could stand by and do nothing. I had to try to actually do something to remedy this inconsistency as quickly as possible since many Canadians are bothered by it.
The reality is that the average salary in Canada is $48,800, and employees must contribute to a pension fund for many years in order to earn a decent pension.
Just from the standpoint of rigorous public administration, it is inconceivable and unacceptable that a person who didn’t complete their five-year mandate should automatically receive a lifetime pension, regardless of how many years they served in that role.
Receiving a full pension after five years is already an extraordinary and unique privilege in Canada. The Governor General was actually in office for about three years and four months. Under the current Governor General’s Act, an individual can hold office for three years, two years, six months, two weeks, or even two days, and they would automatically be entitled to those financial benefits. It makes no sense. Clearly, the legislator did not anticipate a situation like this one, which led to this incongruity.
If Bill S-232 passes, governors general will only be entitled to their retiring annuity if they complete their term, which is usually five years. In addition, any former governor general who fails to complete a full term of office, except for medical reasons, will have their lifetime pension and office budgets suspended.
This is not the case with Ms. Payette, who held her position for only three years and four months and left for non-medical reasons.
Let’s review the facts. The goal is not to put the former governor general on trial but rather to identify situations where an individual resigns from their position for reasons that are invalid from a legal and common sense perspective and that would not justify that individual continuing to receive benefits after holding office for a very short time.
In July 2017, Ms. Payette was appointed as the twenty-ninth Governor General of Canada. She took office on October 2, 2017. Following a news story published by the CBC on July 21, 2020, which talked about the toxic work environment at Rideau Hall, the Privy Council launched an investigation into the complaints that had been submitted about Ms. Payette’s relationship with her co-workers and subordinates.
The mandate to investigate was given to a private firm that met with a very large number of current and former employees in the fall of 2020. The investigation report was submitted to the Privy Council on January 12, 2021. The report was very damning to Ms. Payette. Despite the fact that the investigation report is very heavily redacted, some excerpts leave very little doubt about what had been happening at Rideau Hall since Ms. Payette took on the role of Governor General of Canada.
On page 7, the report states the following, no doubt with reference to current and former Rideau Hall employees:
The overwhelming majority [of employees and former employees] participated confidentially to raise concerns about the work environment and/or their individual treatment . . . .
Forty-three participants described the general work environment as hostile or negative or used other words to that effect. Twenty-six participants used the words “toxic” or “poisoned” to describe the general work atmosphere at the OSGG during the current mandate.
Here’s what it says on the next page: “Reports included allegations of yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations.”
One last quote from the report clearly describes the very real consequences of this toxic atmosphere. On page 44, it reads as follows:
It was reported that since 2017 when the current mandate began, many employees have left the OSGG, either permanently, temporarily or on sick leave; this included a number who had worked there for long periods. Participants described that “staff turnover is at record levels”, that “people are leaving in droves”, there were “waves of departures” and an “exodus” of “quite a few competent, accomplished, experienced personnel”. Several participants said that a lot of staff have left during this mandate, initially mainly from the Chancellery of Honours and more recently from Communications. It was stated that some of those who left “adored” the organization but felt they could not stay. Specifically, 17 participants reported that they left the OSGG during the current mandate because of the work environment at the OSGG.
Less than flattering comments like this are found quite frequently throughout this report. For example, the word “toxic” is found 34 different times. I told you that the January 12 inquiry report was scathing. The Governor General tendered her resignation nine days later, on January 21, 2021.
I did some research to see if there was a code of honour for the Governor General. I did not find anything. However, I did find the Professional Code of Conduct for employees at Rideau Hall. It reads as follows:
It is with honour, humility and dedication that we work together to support the Governor General and serve Canadians with integrity, in a politically neutral manner, putting public interest ahead of our own. We take pride in offering professional high quality services that are respectful of the needs and dignity of all parties. We recognize trust and respect as pre-requisites to all successful interactions. We foster mutual collaboration by promoting a safe and healthy work environment where employees and partners are valued for their diversity and competence. We recognize that professional development enables us to grow and provide better services. We recognize and celebrate achievements and we strive to attain a healthy balance between our work and personal lives.
Esteemed colleagues, that is what is required of employees who work with the Governor General at Rideau Hall.
I remind you that this is our country’s head of state. She must therefore be irreproachable and inspiring in her behaviour. She must meet the highest standards of conduct, at least as high as the standards expected of public servants, her own employees and senators. In studying the inquiry report on her administration, and faced with the extensive testimony from employees and former employees of Rideau Hall, that’s certainly not the kind of service she delivered. She certainly did the Prime Minister a favour in tendering her resignation. It would have been beyond embarrassing to keep her on.
The Canadian public was shaken, and rightly so, to learn of the toxic work environment that existed under the Governor General. The Canadian public wouldn’t have approved if the Prime Minister had wiped the slate clean on Ms. Payette’s time at Rideau Hall, without consequences.
Julie Payette tendered her resignation on January 21, 2021. We were shocked to learn that, even though she didn’t complete her regular mandate of five consecutive years, she would nevertheless be entitled to an annual pension for life of $150,000. To add insult to injury, we learned that she would be entitled to a $206,000 annual allowance for expenses incurred as a result of ongoing responsibilities related to her former office.
Once again, my goal here is not to criticize the Governor General, but to be quite honest, colleagues, I was astounded to learn that the Governor General’s Act does not provide any guidelines on the payment of a lifetime pension to former governors general.
As I said at the outset, an individual could be appointed Governor General, resign after holding the office for just one week, and still receive the lifetime pension and other financial benefits I listed earlier. It makes no sense. This is clearly a mistake in the legislation, and this is a situation that was never envisioned.
Subsection 6(1) in Part II of the Governor General’s Act states, and I quote:
Where a Governor General ceases to hold office as such, there shall be paid to him an annuity equal to the aggregate of
(a) one-third of the salary annexed to the office of Governor General on March 1, 1967; and
(b) such amount, in addition to the amount determined under paragraph (a), as would be paid to him as a supplementary retirement benefit under the Supplementary Retirement Benefits Act in the year in which he ceases to hold office if that benefit were calculated on the basis that he had ceased to hold office on January 1, 1952.
Section 6 of the Governor General’s Act makes no mention of any minimum period of service to qualify for a lifetime annuity. I see that as a serious flaw in the legislation.
In my bill, I propose that section 6 of the Governor General’s Act be amended to read as follows:
6 (1) When a Governor General who has held office for at least five consecutive years ceases to hold office as such, there shall be paid to him an annuity equal to the aggregate of
Secondly, the act is amended by adding the following after subsection 6(1):
(1.1) A Governor General who, in the opinion of the Governor in Council, is unable for medical reasons to serve for five consecutive years is deemed to have served for at least five consecutive years for the purpose of subsection (1).
Then I add the following provision to address the issue of operating budgets and the representation of former governors general:
12 No money shall be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purpose of providing administrative support to or reimbursing expenses incurred by a former Governor General who held office for less than five consecutive years.
Lastly, my bill adds a transitional provision for former governors general.
4 (1) The payment, under Part II of the Governor General’s Act as it read immediately before the day on which this Act comes into force, of an annuity to a former Governor General who held office for less than five consecutive years ceases on the day on which this Act comes into force.
This means that, on the day the bill is passed, the government will cease to pay the lifetime annuity to the Governor General who resigned. She won’t have to pay back what’s been paid to her, but future payments will cease on the day on which the bill receives Royal Assent.
Honourable senators, when I introduced my bill, I made it clear that I was inviting the Prime Minister to use it as the basis for amendments to the Governor General’s Act when he introduced his budget. Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau did not accept my invitation, so there’s nothing in Bill C-30 about this issue. Surprisingly though, Bill C-30 amends the Judges Act to fix their pension rules.
This amendment follows the case of a former judge who took advantage of certain gaps in the Judges Act to obtain a pension for life, even though he only sat a few years on the bench and was suspended with full pay following a complaint against him. He scandalously drew out the procedures to reach the tenth anniversary of his appointment, thus becoming eligible for a lifetime pension. I am talking about former Justice Michel Girouard.
When Minister LeBlanc appeared in this chamber on May 12 in preparation for the study of Bill C-30, I asked him why his government had not included an amendment to the Governor General’s Act in Bill C-30. The minister had this rather surprising answer to give:
As for Ms. Payette’s situation, you’re absolutely right. I don’t think people understood that the retirement benefits are the same whether you occupy the position for five minutes or five years. I understand the frustration that people felt in Ms. Payette’s case. We’re open to the idea of examining this kind of issue.
I honestly didn’t draw the parallel with the amendments my colleague Minister Lametti brought before you in Judge Girouard’s case. You’re right, however; perhaps that’s something we’ll have to consider.
I understand the concern; we hope it only happens once for the next 154 years. You have to assume we can learn something from this situation. I accept your comment as a suggestion, and I’m quite sensitive to it.
Given the statement by the minister responsible for the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, who recommends candidates for the position of Governor General, I take it that he believes this bill is seriously worthy of consideration, and I would hope that it was not just empty rhetoric. This bill is simple and clear and effectively responds to a difficult situation criticized by many Canadians. If the government were to set priorities, it could be passed very quickly. The study of Bill S-232 by a Senate committee will give us the opportunity to further reflect on this issue, which raised the ire of Canadians. Therefore, I invite you, honourable senators, to support it at second reading and refer it to one of our Senate standing committees. I thank you.
Hon. Lucie Moncion: Would Senator Carignan take a question?
Senator Carignan: Yes, of course.
Senator Moncion: Senator Carignan, I have a few questions about the bill. I think you talked about a prospective effect in the bill for future governors general, but there’s also a retroactive effect in subclause 4(1), which goes back and corrects the amounts that could potentially be paid in the future to the Governor General who just resigned.
My question is about potential lawsuits. Since you’re a lawyer, what legal action might be associated with such a situation if the former Governor General decides to challenge the contractual arrangement by which she became Governor General? What are the potential legal and cost implications for Canada?
Senator Carignan: Obviously, the bill isn’t retroactive. If the bill is passed, the Governor General who resigned will not have to pay back the money that she received from the time she resigned until the bill receives Royal Assent. The bill is retrospective, not retroactive, in every situation, not just for the Governor General but for all future governors general.
With regard to the possibility that the bill will be challenged, every bill we pass could be challenged. I consulted a few constitutional experts before I introduced this bill, which explains why it took me a little longer. I waited for the government to correct this mistake, but it didn’t. However, I also consulted constitutional experts to ensure that no constitutional issues arise from amending a provision related to the Crown, Canada’s head of state. The Governor General’s Act was passed by Parliament and so it can be amended by Parliament. Obviously, the courts have to enforce the laws passed by Parliament as long as they don’t violate the Constitution. I didn’t see anything like that in this bill, and the constitutional experts that I consulted confirmed that nothing in this bill contravenes any part of the Constitution.
Senator Moncion: What if there is a lawsuit? You didn’t answer that part of my question. I want to know if the former governor general can take the matter to court and, if so, how that would affect our country.
Senator Carignan: Any interested party has the right to take a given matter to court and give it a try. I believe she would have virtually no chance of success. However, nobody can be prevented from instituting legal proceedings over an administrative, government or individual decision. There is always a risk that someone who was wronged could try taking the matter to court. That’s why we have courts. They have to settle lawsuits justly and in accordance with the law, and that is what they’ll do if the Governor General affected by this bill decides to contest its provisions. No matter what decision we make here, if we were to avoid taking action because someone, someday, might go to court to challenge the provisions of any particular bill, we would never do anything.
We recently passed special back-to-work legislation for workers at the Port of Montreal. We passed it even though it’s likely to end up in court. A lawsuit was filed a week after the special legislation was passed. Under our justice system, that’s the prerogative of anyone who lives in a free democratic society.
Hon. Percy E. Downe: Senator, I’m not sure I share your view that the legislation is not retroactive. As distasteful as we may find the pension going to the former governor general, it’s not her fault that when she accepted the terms and conditions of the position, those were the terms and conditions.
So I am not in favour of any retroactive provision of your bill, but I do accept the spirit of your bill, that we can correct this on a go-forward basis, not only for the pension, but for this additional remuneration for other expenses incurred after individuals are no longer Governor General.
I’m not sure why that provision is in there. I know it’s not available to former prime ministers. It’s not available, for example, to the former chief justice of the Supreme Court or a similar package. I’m not sure why former Governors General would be in such demand after their term is up that they would require this additional funding. It’s as if senators would require funding after they leave the Senate to carry on some public responsibility. We have none. Our term is over, the term is over. Have you considered dropping the clause for the most recent Governor General and just proceeding with other initiatives in your bill? Thank you.
Senator Carignan: Thank you, Senator Downe, for your question. I have thought about it. However, it is the nature of a bill to encourage debate, discussions and reflection. I introduced this bill because of the situation in Governor General Julie Payette’s office. That is why I decided to make it a retrospective, rather than retroactive, piece of legislation. We could argue this position but, in my view, we must rely on a retrospective effect. Clearly, it is up to this chamber to debate the bill and propose amendments. My position is simply that we correct what I call a mistake. In my opinion, no legislator foresaw that a governor general could hold office for two weeks and receive a pension for life. It should be a priority to correct this mistake, especially since a new Governor General may be appointed in a few days, according to what we heard from Minister LeBlanc. It would be best to adopt future working conditions immediately so they are clear to the person who accepts the position.
Once again, the objective of this bill is to give the Senate the opportunity to debate this matter, to hear from witnesses and to propose amendments. I have absolutely nothing against amendments. My objective is to correct the situation. If amendments are proposed and adopted by a majority of senators, I will, as I usually do, respect the will of the chamber.
Hon. Éric Forest: Senator Carignan, would you take a question?
Senator Carignan: Yes, of course.
Senator Forest: I agree with the spirit of your bill, which seeks to remedy the situation. However, have you given any thought to the possibility of including the notion of proportionality? If a person resigns for medical reasons, they would no longer be entitled to any retirement benefits. Did you consider that possibility in your deliberations and consultations?
Senator Carignan: I thought about it a little bit, but the pension for the Governor General or the position of Governor General is unique to Canada. It doesn’t exist in any other pension system. Provincial lieutenant governors have to contribute to their pension fund in order to be entitled to a pension. They have to contribute to it. The system for lieutenant governors is therefore completely different than the one for the Governor General of Canada. That pension doesn’t come from the individual’s contributions. It is a sort of inherent right that arises from the legislation, and the Governor General doesn’t make any contribution to the pension fund. That’s why I didn’t want to get into determining benefits based on the length of time the person served in the role. If the person had contributed to the pension fund, then I might have been more open to your proposal or suggestion. I would have thought about it. However, since the person is not contributing to the pension fund, I don’t see how that could be taken into account.
Senator Forest: I had another question. I’m thinking out loud. It’s a question about fairness for the person who resigns after a month or four years; it’s “all or nothing.” I asked myself the question, but we will have a chance to discuss it in more detail in committee.
Senator Carignan: If I may, when you speak of “all or nothing,” it calls to mind certain aspects of the parliamentarian pension plans. For example, we have to sit for six years. Unfortunately, if we sit five years and two months, even if we contribute, it’s all or nothing. It takes six years to be eligible for a pension. It’s a question of eligibility. I think the eligibility criteria should be set at five years.
Hon. Ratna Omidvar: Would Senator Carignan take a question?
Senator Carignan: Yes, with pleasure.
Senator Omidvar: Canada is not the only country that has a Governor General. We are members of the Commonwealth. There are Governors General in Antigua, Barbados, Australia, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, et cetera. What do they do? Can you shed some light on some best practices from other jurisdictions?
Senator Carignan: Actually, no. It is my understanding that some Governor General positions in other countries are unpaid and honorary, for example. The Bloc Québécois has actually introduced a bill in the other place calling for the salary to be zero. It would simply be an honorary position, without a salary, but I don’t support that idea. I haven’t done a comparative analysis of the laws around the world. I haven’t put any resources into it. It might be interesting to do just that. I think the idea was to focus on Canada. I think we need to listen to Canadians. Clearly, when the current legislation was drafted, the early departure of someone who would occupy the office of Governor General for three days was not anticipated, and that flaw needs to be corrected. That is the solution I have proposed. As with any bill I introduce in this place, my goal is to build consensus in order to reach a solution.
Hon. Josée Forest-Niesing: Would Senator Carignan take a question?
Senator Carignan: Yes, of course. I believe we still have time.
Senator Forest-Niesing: It is a short question. Senator Carignan, how did you come to the decision to provide for either a five-year term or a term of less than five years? With the other parliamentarians, it’s a six-year term. Could you explain the logic behind your decision?
Senator Carignan: According to the wording of the current legislation, a Governor General’s term is five years. It was logical to complete the original term of five years, which is the duration of the position or duties.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Since the focus is on completing the term, why not clearly state that in the bill since it’s possible for the term to be less than five years in some circumstances?
Senator Carignan: I specified five years in the bill. An exception was included for people who might step down for health reasons. To my knowledge, this has happened once in the past, in the case of Minister LeBlanc’s father, who left his position for medical reasons before the end of his term. The only situation where this currently applies involves the wife of Roméo LeBlanc, who is receiving a pension following the death of her husband. The purpose of the provision is to ensure that she is not affected by this retrospective effect.
Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Will Senator Carignan take a few questions?
Senator Carignan: Of course.
Senator Dalphond: Regarding what you just said about survivors’ rights, in the transitional provision, you indicate in the bill that the payment started under Part II of the Governor General’s Act would continue to be paid in the case of a survivor. Does this mean that if Ms. Payette were to die before the bill came into force, for instance if the House of Commons were to pass the bill in the fall, her pension would continue to be paid to the person designated as her survivor, but not to her?
Senator Carignan: I’m not sure I quite understood your question.
In fact, there’s only one case, that of Roméo LeBlanc, who left his position for medical reasons before he could hold office for a period of five full years. He passed away, and part of his pension is payable to his widow, who continues to receive it — as far as I know, she is still alive. For the future, and for people who did not carry out their duties for a period of five years, we did not want them to be affected by this retrospective effect of the cancellation. Since Roméo LeBlanc left his position for health reasons, that is how we applied the transitional provision.
Senator Dalphond: During your speech or in response to a question you made an analogy with the situation of Justice Girouard. I very much like your bill because it also draws an analogy with early retirement for reasons that are beneficial to the country or for health reasons, which the Judges Act also provides for. However, in the case of Justice Girouard, before amending the Judges Act, the Attorney General sought the opinion of the quadrennial Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission to determine the impact on judges’ pensions. The quadrennial commission deemed it unacceptable to apply the change immediately and determined that the legislation applies to Justice Girouard, stating that it should only apply to subsequent judges and those who end up in a similar situation to that of Justice Girouard in future.
The difference between your bill and the judges’ situation is that the application is immediate. There is no retroactivity and as soon as the legislation comes into force, it applies immediately.
Don’t you think that you are changing the Governor General’s working conditions, which are not the same as those that were in place at the time the position was accepted, when there were conditions that applied? You are changing them for the future, but she accepted the ones in place when she was appointed and knew that the position entailed certain benefits. Consequently, you are taking away some benefits she was to enjoy in the future.
Senator Carignan: Yes, that is right. It is a matter of opinion. It is the opinion of the committee; I, too, have my own opinion. I don’t think that the committee’s opinion was based on an issue of constitutional law, but perhaps on the independence of judges. Indeed, there may be questions about the independence of judges, because that touches on remuneration and the judge still made contributions to his pension during this period, which is not the case for the Governor General.
Senator Dalphond: Senator Carignan, I don’t know if you read what some constitutional law professors said about your bill requiring a constitutional amendment, since it affects the duties of the Governor General. I don’t know if you read that and if you have a response.
I know that there was also an article in the National Post saying that the bill is a good idea but, ultimately, a bad idea.
Senator Carignan: Yes, but they were obviously not the constitutional experts I consulted, who told me the opposite. Once again, we can ask the question. I could argue, but this is why we have judges, and cases go to the Supreme Court precisely because lawyers do not agree. There is an old joke about how the only lawyer in town is always poor, but once you bring in a second lawyer, the two become the wealthiest in town. There can be as many opinions as there are constitutional experts, but the ones I consulted said that the Governor General Act is an act of Parliament that can be amended by Parliament.
(On motion of Senator Duncan, debate adjourned.)
Motion to Call Upon the Government to Impose Sanctions Against Chinese Officials in Relation to the Human Rights Abuses and Systematic Persecution of Uighur Muslims in China—Debate
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Housakos, seconded by the Honourable Senator Smith:
That the Senate of Canada call upon the Government of Canada to impose sanctions, pursuant to the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), against Chinese officials in relation to the human rights abuses and systematic persecution of Uighur Muslims in China.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Housakos’s motion, which is that the Senate call upon our government to impose sanctions against Chinese officials in relation to the human rights abuses and systemic persecution of Uighur Muslims in China.
I would like to thank Senator Housakos for raising this motion. The genocide of Uighur Muslims is and has been one of the most horrifying things happening in the world over the past few years.
In February of this year, during the first annual general meeting of the Canada-Uyghur Parliamentary Friendship Group, we heard the first-hand experiences of Golbahar, a Uighur woman who spent a year in one of China’s so-called “re‑education camps.” She was only working in China; she had come from Kazakhstan and was a business woman. She was not even a Chinese resident.
Golbahar recounted to us her suffering in a passionate and pained voice. She told us how she was kidnapped from her hotel while she was on a business trip to the Xinjiang region of China. Police took her passport and detained her. She was handcuffed, shackled and thrown in a small cell with 50 other women. She was starved, tortured and forced to memorize Chinese patriotic songs. If she spoke in her native Uighur language, she was sent to solitary confinement, a dark one-metre by one-metre cell with a hole for a toilet.
I have witnessed myself Uyghurs being beaten, electrocuted, needles inserted inside the nails or nails torn out and they came out half dead from those interrogations.
Golbahar told us that when she got sick and fainted, she was taken to a hospital and kept in shackles. These shackles weighed five kilograms each.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Jaffer, I’m sorry to interrupt you. Honourable senators, it is now six o’clock, and pursuant to rule 3-3(1) and the order adopted on October 27, 2020, I’m obliged to leave the chair until seven o’clock unless there is leave that the sitting continue.
If you wish the sitting to suspend, please say “suspend.”
Some Hon. Senators: Suspend.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: We shall resume at seven o’clock.
(The sitting of the Senate was suspended.)
(The sitting of the Senate was resumed.)
Motion to Call Upon the Government to Impose Sanctions Against Chinese Officials in Relation to the Human Rights Abuses and Systematic Persecution of Uighur Muslims in China—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Housakos, seconded by the Honourable Senator Smith:
That the Senate of Canada call upon the Government of Canada to impose sanctions, pursuant to the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), against Chinese officials in relation to the human rights abuses and systematic persecution of Uighur Muslims in China.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I’d like to remind you that I was speaking about the persecution of the Uighurs in China.
At the hospital, Golbahar met many women and girls dressed in yellow vests, a sign that they were death row inmates. When Golbahar spoke, we could feel the suffering and trauma in her voice, but Golbahar was lucky because she was let go. She’s now a free woman living in France.
The most conservative estimate of the number of Uighurs in Chinese prison camps is 1 million. One million people are being tortured right now as we speak, only because of their faith — the Muslim faith. In 2018, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development studied the human rights situation of the Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims. The subcommittee produced a report, and I will read a short excerpt:
. . . an entire religion is criminalized. Witnesses described prohibitions on a wide array of religious practices or expressions of Islam through anti-terror legislation. This includes a prohibition on facial hair and religious clothing. Individuals with names bearing religious significance have been forced to change their names. Qurans, religious literature and prayer mats kept at home are confiscated. Keeping Islamic dietary practices is prohibited. Halal signs are now illegal, and restaurants must stay open during Ramadan. It is also prohibited to teach Islam to children. Individuals have been detained for praying five times a day and for circulating religious text among family.
But religious identity is not the only facet of the Uighur identity. Their language, culture and traditions are all under attack. They are no longer taught in schools, and if caught talking to your children in Uighur, you would be imprisoned in the notorious Chinese camps.
Uighur professors, athletes and politicians are specifically targeted. Farida Deif from the Human Rights Watch said:
To be clear, the scale and scope of abuses in Xinjiang are unlike anything Human Rights Watch has seen in China in decades. Not just the numbers of people held, but the abuses — the systematic abuses region-wide — are unprecedented. In addition, the impact goes beyond China to Uighurs globally, including Uighur Canadians here at home. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before.
As is always the case, the women in these situations suffer an additional type of torture — sexual abuse. The few women who were released and were able to flee to countries where they can feel safe recounted their stories of rape and other forms of sexual violence. The most common story goes like this: The Chinese men would go in the cells and pick the woman they wanted. The female officer would then strip the woman naked and handcuff them with their wrists above their head. The woman would be escorted to what they call the black room, which has no surveillance cameras. Chinese men would then rape her, sometimes several men, sometimes several times a night.
A woman who miraculously remained alive was released from the so-called re-education camps and said to the BBC, “Perhaps this is the most unforgettable scar on me forever.”
Senators, let me explain that I chose the most common story of rape. I did not choose to relate in this chamber the many accounts of electric sticks and other forms of torture used as part of sexual violence. It is indeed, as Farida Deif said, unlike anything we have seen before. This, in addition to sterilization, indoctrination and the attempt at erasing Uighur, should not pass. We cannot let it stand.
In late February, the other place voted 266 to 0 to declare China’s treatment of its Uighur minority population as a genocide. I truly commend this motion, and I know it took too long and a lot of hard work to mobilize for this motion. However, I cannot in clear conscience say that this is enough.
The surprise is that this is enough. I understand that the world, including Canada, will undoubtedly continue to work with China on trade, climate change and other matters, but it is crucial to continue to remember what the Chinese government does. We must not falter in our pursuit of justice and rights, especially when it comes to vulnerable people.
I must ask why our government is hesitant in its response to this genocide. Our closest allies, the U.S. and the U.K., have taken strong and clear steps, while Canadian members of cabinet even abstain from voting on a mere non-binding motion.
Words are never enough. In the face of these horrific acts of torture, rape, sterilization and genocide, a lot more needs to be done. Honourable senators, Canada played a pivotal role in introducing Responsibility to Protect. Canada led the way that when there is an atrocity, we have to stand up to protect the most vulnerable. Canada has to follow what it led, and I ask you all to support this motion and stand up for the most vulnerable in this world.
Hon. Marilou McPhedran: Honourable senators, I rise to speak in support of this motion and to thank Senator Leo Housakos for giving us the opportunity as senators to think for ourselves on this issue — one of the most pressing and crucial human rights questions of our time.
You will know that this motion gives us the opportunity to join with our parliamentary colleagues in the other place, as the wording is identical and provides for the added impact that follows when both houses of Canada’s Parliament speak jointly and clearly together. I also want to thank the Canadian parliamentarians who, for years, have been examining and speaking out on the persecution of Uighurs and other minorities by the state of China.
On February 24, 2021, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights issued a joint statement commending the Canadian House of Commons for taking a strong moral stand in recognizing China’s ongoing genocide against the Uighurs.
We know that we do not have the authority to order the Government of Canada around, but it is most certainly within the scope of our parliamentary duties to urge the Government of Canada to address the atrocities being committed against the Uighurs and ensure that China is held to account.
Let’s go back to the October 21, 2020, finding by the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights that nearly 2 million Uighurs and other Turkish ethnic groups are being detained in what witnesses have referred to as “concentration camps” and the largest mass detention of a minority community since the Holocaust during World War II.
You heard just now Senator Jaffer’s eloquent summary of the testimony we heard from Golbahar when she spoke to us about her personal and horrifying experiences as a prisoner. We have evidence of atrocities that have taken place based on witness testimonies such as Golbahar’s, including efforts to eradicate cultural and religious identity, widespread sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence, the existence of concentration and forced labour camps, as well as forced and coerced sterilization and abortion to reduce the Uighur population. Golbahar told us of the prettiest Uighur women being hauled out of their cells in the night, some returning battered and sexually violated, some never returning.
This motion gives us, as senators, the chance to join Canadian parliamentarians from across party lines who have joined together to pass the motion sponsored by MP Michael Chong, for which he has been sanctioned by China for declaring that the atrocities committed by China against the Uighurs amount to nothing less than genocide.
Support for this motion also gives the Canadian government support for advancing the important work being done by Parliament by taking the necessary steps to hold the Chinese state to account, should the government so decide. We would simply be offering our advice and opinions to the government for its consideration.
As former justice minister and current special envoy for Canada, the Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Irwin Cotler says, this move provides an important opportunity for the Canadian government to follow up on the initiative of Parliament and to make it possible for the Canadian government to take next steps in consideration of all that it must consider for moving forward.
The implementation of targeted Magnitsky human rights sanctions against the architects of the genocide, and an increase in humanitarian aid and asylum for Uighurs, are also on the agenda, but they are not covered explicitly by this motion.
Colleagues, let me close with a personal account. Just before COVID hit last year, I was contacted by Dr. Fozia Alvi, a family physician in Calgary. I met Dr. Alvi in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh the previous year where she was providing voluntary medical care. She continues to do so through a charity she and her family established that mobilizes doctors from all over the world to give of their free time, even if it’s a week or two weeks, to help out in the Rohingya camps and other places where people are living in crisis. Dr. Alvi asked me to come to Calgary to join with her and other doctors there who were going to be standing with members of Falun Gong and, in particular, a large number — relative to the population in Alberta — of Uighurs, many of whom did not live in Calgary but were finding their way to Calgary for a media conference to address what was learned from relatives and from people they know who are Uighurs, in a range of situations where they are living under Chinese rule.
It was my great honour to moderate that media conference. Afterward, I was able to sit with the Uighur Canadians who came, some of them through a blinding snowstorm that took them more than seven hours to be able to arrive in time for the media conference. If I had any doubts prior to that meeting, I left Calgary knowing that this was a genocide that the world had to wake up to.
Let me close by inviting every one of us to think through this on our own, as independent senators, hopefully to conclude that this motion is well worth supporting.
Thank you. Meegwetch.
Hon. Leo Housakos: Would the honourable senator take a question?
The Hon. the Speaker: Senator McPhedran, you have time remaining. Would you take a question from Senator Housakos?
Senator McPhedran: I would be very pleased to try to answer a question.
Senator Housakos: Senator McPhedran, thank you for your support for the motion, and thank you to Senator Jaffer as well for her kind and strong support for the motion. Both of you are colleagues who always stand up for human rights, unequivocally.
Senator, why do you think it’s taking so long for our institution to adopt such an obvious, strong stance in support of human rights in regard to applying Magnitsky sanctions against those culprits who are infringing upon basic human rights, or for passing motions such as Motion No. 79 with regard to recognizing as a genocide what’s happening to the unfortunate Uighur people? Why is it that our institution has been so slow, unlike the House of Commons and other institutions of the Westminster system, and other democratic institutions, which have been so quick to express strong values in favour of the Uighur people? Why is it taking us so long, honourable senator, to get this through our institution and speak loud and clear on behalf of Canadian values?
Senator McPhedran: Thank you for the question, Senator Housakos.
I must tell you that, relative to your experience and that of many others in this chamber, I consider myself a newcomer. This is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing and challenging institutions I’ve ever been a part of. I don’t begin to understand a lot of what happens here.
My own sense is that we really haven’t had the opportunity to speak to your motion; that this evening is a very welcome time for us to be able to respond. The kind of delay you’re speaking about with such understandable frustration applies to almost everything we’re trying to do in the context of a very dangerous time — a time when we must be respectful of the safety of all of those who work to support us who don’t have the option, as we do right now, of being in our homes and participating fully in the Senate. I can’t draw any clear conclusions on this, but I certainly do share your frustration.
The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Housakos, did you have another question?
Senator Housakos: No. I’d like the institution to call a question on this motion.
The Hon. the Speaker: I’m sorry, I see Senator Duncan —
Some Hon. Senators: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Duncan, did you wish to move the question or the adjournment?
Senator Duncan: I wish to move the adjournment of the debate.
(On motion of Senator Duncan, debate adjourned.)
Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Forced and Coerced Sterilization of Persons Withdrawn
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Boyer, seconded by the Honourable Senator Woo:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights be authorized to examine and report on the forced and coerced sterilization of persons in Canada, particularly related to Indigenous women, when and if the committee is formed; and
That the committee submit its final report on this study to the Senate no later than December 30, 2021.
Hon. Yvonne Boyer: Honourable senators, I have nothing to say about this at this moment.
The Hon. the Speaker: Are you asking for leave to withdraw the motion or do you just wish to move on and let it stand?
Senator Boyer: I would like to have leave to withdraw the motion, please.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon Senators: Agreed.
Motion to Call on the Government to Adopt Anti-racism as the Sixth Pillar of the Canada Health Act—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator McCallum, seconded by the Honourable Senator McPhedran:
That the Senate of Canada call on the federal government to adopt anti-racism as the sixth pillar of the Canada Health Act, prohibiting discrimination based on race and affording everyone the equal right to the protection and benefit of the law.
Hon. Paula Simons: I rise this evening because I would like to resume debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator McCallum, who is proposing that the Senate of Canada call on the federal government to adopt anti-racism as the sixth pillar of the Canada Health Act, prohibiting any discrimination based on race and affording everyone the equal right to the protection and benefit of the law.
Medical racism has many faces and takes many forms. Sometimes it is easy to diagnose when we hear the stories of Indigenous patients who’ve been denied timely care because the staff in the emergency room assumed they were intoxicated, rather than sick; or stories of patients who’ve heard or overhead staff using racist slurs and epithets to describe them; or patients who’ve tried to advocate for themselves in hospital, only to have their concerns or questions brushed aside because the staff couldn’t be bothered to listen past their accents.
Those are some of the most infuriating examples of racism because they are so clearly and crudely rooted in malice and prejudice, cynicism or laziness, and we get the most angry because those stories have pretty clear bad guys and victims.
But when we talk about systemic racism in health care, we’re not just talking about that kind of personal, malevolent one-on-one racism. We’re talking about something far more insidious and much harder to root out. There are so many subtle ways such systemic racism expresses itself, like a lack of equitable access to health care, for one, perhaps because there just aren’t doctors serving remote Indigenous communities or particularly poor urban neighbourhoods. We’ve seen vivid examples of this during the COVID-19 crisis, whether we’re talking about the situation in Wood Buffalo or the situation in Brampton.
But there are other, subtler and more slippery kinds of systemic racism, racism that is harder to see because it’s predicated on blind spots in our cultural vision. Indulge me in a personal story by way of example.
I’m not a particularly petite person, but my paternal grandmother was teeny tiny and so is my mother-in-law. And thanks to the genetic lottery, I gave birth to a perfectly healthy but very petite baby girl. She remained perfectly healthy, with a perfectly healthy appetite, but she also remained at the twentieth percentile for height and weight because that’s what her genetics preordained.
On one visit to the well baby clinic, I was soundly scolded by a particularly fierce public health nurse who seemed to suggest I’d been starving my little girl and stunting her growth. I cried all the way home and almost didn’t go back to the clinic.
On my next visit, I was more than a little prickly and defensive. But this time the nurse, who happened to be Chinese Canadian herself, assured me there was nothing to worry about. The height and weight charts, she pointed out, were predicated on outdated demographic averages that did not reflect the multicultural reality of contemporary Canada. The charts were based on North American data from the mid-20th century, and they simply didn’t take into account the typical size, say, of a Filipino-Canadian baby or a baby whose parents came from Thailand or Vietnam or Sri Lanka.
Once she said it, it seemed so obvious, but for me as a young mum, ensconced in my comfortable White privilege, it was a powerful epiphany. Of course, the nurse was quite right. The default settings of those height and weight charts left out all kinds of babies — at least they did 25 years ago, when my own child was born. But as the nurse’s words of comfort sunk in, I suddenly wondered how many young immigrant mothers had been lectured and hectored by well-meaning public health nurses simply because their babies didn’t measure up, literally, to the accepted percentiles on the chart. I wondered how many times a social worker might have been called, not because the mother was doing something wrong, but simply because her kid didn’t fit a paradigm based on a more homogeneous 1950s population.
A low-stakes example, perhaps. Still, it’s an illustration of the kind of blinkered thinking that infuses much of our public health care system.
It can be something as mundane as the fact that the bland and limited entrees on a hospital menu don’t reflect the tastes and cultures of many Canadian patients. It’s hard to get better if the food the hospital dietician puts before you is completely foreign to your experience and your identity. But it can also be something far more dangerous.
What if you’re studying to be a dermatologist, but almost the only photographs you see of various skin conditions in your training are all of White skin? How are you going to recognize or diagnose a skin disorder or a skin cancer if you have no idea how a condition presents in someone who’s Black or South Asian or Polynesian?
A recent study by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, for example, tracked 97,000 patients with melanoma, one of the rarest but most deadly skin cancers. It found that White and Hispanic patients had the highest likelihood of survival, while African-American patients and those from the Pacific Islands, such as Hawaii, had the lowest survival rates. The researchers concluded that doctors were far less likely to diagnose melanoma in darker-skinned patients because they were not looking for it and didn’t recognize it when they saw it.
What if the medical technology you’re using to test something is only calibrated for White skin?
In December of 2020, The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a study that looked at the way pulse oximeters — those little monitors that track your level of blood oxygenation — work on both Black and White patients. The study found that the monitors, which are so ubiquitous in hospitals, especially in the midst of COVID, were far more unreliable for Black patients who were nearly three times more likely to suffer from low blood oxygen levels that went undetected by monitors that were designed to work on Caucasian subjects.
What if the drugs your doctor is administering have only been tested on White people?
A 2018 article in Scientific American noted that the patients who participate in clinical trials for new drugs skew heavily White — in some cases, 80% to 90%. Yet, as the magazine noted, the symptoms of conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as the contributing factors, vary across lines of ethnicity, as they do between sexes.
If diverse groups weren’t part of such studies, the article argued, there’s no way to be sure whether the treatment will work in all populations or what side effects might emerge in one group or another. And since we in Canada are often customers for American-created pharmaceuticals, their problems become our problems, too.
Take the drug Tegretol, a common treatment for epilepsy, sometimes also used to treat patients who are bipolar. For many people, the drug works well, with few side effects. But if you’re East Asian, and particularly if you’re Han Chinese, Tegretol can cause a number of different and serious skin conditions, including toxic epidermal necrolysis. That’s the sort of thing which is hard to anticipate if none of your test subjects are Chinese. And that’s not the only issue. Americans of African descent, for example, are more likely to suffer from respiratory ailments than White Americans, however, as of 2015, only 1.9% of all studies of respiratory disease in the United States included minority subjects.
Nor is this just an American problem. A recent study of drug trials involving some 150,000 patients in 29 countries at 5 different time points over a 20-year span, revealed that the ethnic makeup of the subjects in the drug trials was about 86 percent White.
Now, nobody sets out with malice to write medical textbooks dominated by pictures of White patients, or to invent blood oxygen monitors that work better on White skin. Nobody set out to patent drugs that don’t work on Chinese patients or to organize drug trials that don’t include non-White test subjects. And no one set out to create exclusionary hospital menus or exclusionary charts of baby weights. But racism, especially systemic racism, isn’t always about malice or bad intentions. Sometimes it’s just about ignorance or complacency or lack of imagination. That doesn’t make it benign, it makes it more insidious. And it’s an ignorance we can ill afford if we want Canada to have a public health care system that reflects the reality of the diverse country we share.
That’s why I’m so eager and grateful to speak to Senator McCallum’s motion and especially today, when she has given us such a profound gift — her personal, moving testimony about the destructive costs of institutional racism at its worst.
We can’t root out the quiet foundational racism that often goes unnoticed unless we act with both empathy and intent. We need to ensure our student doctors, nurses, technicians, psychologists, genetic counsellors, pharmacists and biomedical researchers come from a wide range of multicultural backgrounds, and they get the training they need to recognize and diagnose conditions in all different kinds of Canadians, not because they’re blind to race, but because they are sensitive to the physical differences amongst us.
We must ensure our tests of new drugs and new medical equipment recognize our modern multicultural diversity. We can no longer make a “typical” White man our baseline subject for all new medications and gadgets. We need to know our pharmaceuticals and our medical equipment will work equally well on women and on people of a wide variety of heritages.
When we say we don’t want our health care system to be racist, we can’t just stop at rooting out a few bigoted health care workers. We need to dig much deeper, to open our eyes and find the more subtle systemic racism baked into our health care paradigms.
That’s why I want to thank Senator McCallum for giving us the important opportunity to debate, so that we can work to create a Canadian public health care system that serves us all equally and equally well.
Thank you and hiy hiy.
Hon. Kim Pate: Thank you for that presentation, Senator Simons.
Honourable senators, I speak today in support of Senator McCallum’s Motion 41, calling on the federal government to adopt anti-racism as the sixth pillar of the Canada Health Act. This measure has been urged by advocates and experts, including the Brian Sinclair Working Group, formed in response to the 2008 death of Mr. Sinclair in a Winnipeg emergency room. He was an Anishinaabe man in need of urgent care but was neglected and ignored, growing sicker and sicker as every patient in the ER was prioritized over him for treatment.
We know from countless reports and studies that the unacceptable actions and inaction that ended Mr. Sinclair’s life continue. Our debate today occurs as the coroner’s inquest proceeds into the death of Joyce Echaquan. Ms Echaquan died last year, enduring racist taunts and cruelty from the health care professionals responsible for her care.
At the inquest last week, some hospital staff witnesses initially took the position that there is no racism at the hospital where Ms. Echaquan died, pointing instead to conditions of stress for staff who were under-resourced and overworked. Coroner Kamel rejected these claims and eventually witnesses came forward with evidence of harmful stereotypes about Indigenous people that circulated at the hospital.
Members of the Sinclair Working Group rightly remind us that pressures on staff do not create the prejudices Ms. Echaquan and Mr. Sinclair experienced. Systemic and individual acts of racism are a reality across Canada. The extent, gravity and urgency of the situation risk being obscured and perpetuated if racism is simply accepted as an inevitable part of a busy health care system, or characterized as something that can be fixed by hiring more staff without also ensuring measures are in place for safe, fair and equal access to care.
As we seek to fulfill our collective mandate to represent minority and marginalized groups, it is our duty to be clear that racism in health and health care is real, and failing to redress it will mean that more people will die preventable deaths.
Our study of Bill C-7 in recent months examined the unacceptable reality that, for too many, health risks and suffering are not inevitable. They can be caused and exacerbated by systemic racism, including through a lack of meaningful access to health, income and social supports.
Palliative care physician Dr. Naheed Dosani, a witness before the Senate Legal Committee and a practitioner who works to provide care to those on the streets, warned that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that, “Racism is a public health emergency.”
Indeed we cannot ignore the travesty in this country that neighbourhoods where inhabitants are racialized and poor have seen twice as many people die as a result of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.
Canada’s health care system is grounded in principles of universality and accessibility, as set out in the Canada Health Act. Yet, especially during current public health emergencies and as Motion 41 makes clear, this is not sufficient. As we work to redress Canada’s legacy of colonialism, the health care system must be actively anti-racist.
Dean Jane Philpott of the Queen’s University Faculty of Health Sciences, herself both a former federal health and Indigenous services minister, has noted that when it comes to racism in health care:
We don’t need more studies; we need action on a suite of reforms. Steps have been laid out in multiple reports including the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls for Justice from the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Making anti-racism a pillar of the Canada Health Act will make clear that pursuing these reforms is an integral and defining priority at every level of Canada’s health care system.
Nowhere are the effects of colonialism and systemic racism more starkly magnified than at the intersection between health care and the criminal legal and prison systems.
Colleagues, many of us have now visited prisons together and have witnessed first-hand who fills their cells and the stark results of the systemic failure and discrimination of every other system, including the health care system. The evisceration of health, economic and social safety nets in past decades leave police, courts and prisons as the default, and the legal and penal systems as the only systems that cannot turn away people.
We must address housing, economic supports and health care, especially mental health and treatment for addictions, needed by so many who have been otherwise abandoned and abused, too often as a result of political and policy decisions. The legal and prison systems are not fit for these purposes, yet we persistently fail to face these realities.
Failing to deliver accessible and culturally safe health care and mental health care has devastating consequences, particularly for those who are most marginalized. They disproportionately end up in contact with police, in courts and in prisons, instead of receiving the treatment they need.
Last summer, the deaths of Black and Indigenous peoples during mental health checks by police officers was the catalyst for sweeping calls for urgent anti-racist action. For too many, these same interventions result in criminalization for what are health rather than criminal law issues.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, two in five people with mental illness have been arrested in their lifetimes. Three in ten have had police involved in their care pathway. Federal corrections data indicates that 79% of women in federal prisons have mental health issues. Among federal prisoners, 25% are categorized as seniors, most of whom live with some form of chronic health issue and, in many cases, several overlapping chronic health issues from chronic pain to physical disability, cancer, diabetes, circulatory issues, heart conditions and dementia.
Too often, the prison system’s default of “managing” people with these sorts of complex health care needs is to place them in isolating conditions that amount to segregation and solitary confinement. Not only do people not receive the care they need, this isolation creates and exacerbates health issues. The irreversible physical, physiological, psychological and neurological harm of spending nearly all day locked alone in a cell smaller than the size of most parking spaces or bathrooms can start within 48 hours. Fifteen days in such conditions is recognized in Canada and internationally as amounting to torture.
For those in federal penitentiaries during the pandemic, entire prisons have been subjected to conditions of segregation in the form of lockdowns that have lasted for weeks and months to over a year.
These draconian conditions have disproportionately affected Black and Indigenous peoples. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID infection rates for men were 10 times higher in federal penitentiaries than in the rest of Canada. For women, they were an unfathomable 77 times higher.
Dr. Dosani describes the situation for racialized patients living on the streets with cancer and other conditions requiring palliative care in the shadow of criminalization as follows:
The people I care for are scared, and they’re worried. Particularly during COVID, we’ve seen the criminalization of homelessness. Particularly, people experiencing homelessness are inhabiting parks and other spaces, because they don’t have elsewhere to go, because respites, shelters and drop-ins have had to reduce services and hours.
The response in many jurisdictions is that they’re being policed. They’re being ticketed, and this is inappropriate and leads to worse outcomes in interactions with police.
It is painfully clear that jails are not, nor should we accept that they continue to be used as, substitutes for shelters, treatment centres or mental health centres for those most marginalized, including as a result of systemic racism. Those with health needs must be able to access appropriate, comprehensive and safe health care.
Thank you, Senator McCallum, for your leadership in challenging this chamber to use its privilege and authority to stop the abandonment of those who suffer to the streets, to jails or to death. Thank you, too, for inspiring us to insist on anti-racist health care and to implement a vision and promise of accessibility and a brighter and more equitable future for all.
Meegwetch. Thank you.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, before calling on Senator Pate to enter debate, I noticed that Senator Richards had his hand raised. I’m not sure if he wished to ask a question of Senator Pate or Senator Simons.
Senator Richards, did you wish to ask a question?
Hon. David Richards: Honourable senators, my question was initially for Senator Simons. I would address it to either one.
The Hon. the Speaker: I’m sorry, Senator Richards. If you wish to ask of Senator Simons, I will have to ask for leave.
If anyone is opposed to granting leave, please say “no.”
Go ahead, Senator Richards.
Senator Richards: Sometimes, Senator Simons, it is a matter of personal integrity, and sometimes it’s laziness and just thoughtlessness. My mother, a White woman, was tormented by a nurse while she was dying because she could not get better. Every day, the nurse would come in and torment her about not getting better. I know another White woman, who lost her child because of mistaken shaken baby syndrome.
I’m not saying that this is a bad bill. I think it should pass, but I think bigotry can walk both sides of the aisle here. A lot of times it’s laziness and ignorance that accompany it. We should be careful not to make our scope too narrow of what bigotry is and is not. Maybe you could respond to that, senator.
Senator Simons: I would be happy to respond, Your Honour.
We’re dealing with two separate sorts of problems here. It pains me to say anything negative about health care workers in the moment of this COVID crisis when so many of them have risked their lives and their physical and mental health to care for us all. But we all know that there are a large number of health care workers, and a certain percentage of them are going to be not nice people.
When my mother was dying in hospital last summer, screaming because she suffered from deep dementia, a nurse came in and yelled at her and told her to be quiet. I said to the nurse, “She cannot understand what you’re saying and she cannot possibly follow your instructions. Why are you scolding and taunting my White, blonde, blue-eyed mother?” Because that nurse was not a nice person.
I wanted to address in my speech the much subtler problem of the kind of systemic discrimination and racism that we don’t do out of malice, but because we don’t see it ourselves. That’s what I hope to bring to this debate. Other senators, including Senator Pate, have spoken very movingly about the problem of bad actors in the health care system. I wanted to take a moment in my speech to address the issues that we don’t always think about and see — the tests, the medical equipment, the medical textbooks — that are kind of still based as though we’re living in the world of the 1960s, when our society doesn’t look like that anymore.
With systemic racism, people get very defensive and they say, “Well, I’m not a bad person. How can I be implicated in systemic racism? Because I’m not mean. I am not bigoted myself.” But all of us are part of a larger society that needs to stop being so defensive and needs to say, “Okay. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. I hadn’t thought of the fact that other people might be uncomfortable. I hadn’t thought of the fact that the medical textbook doesn’t reflect the population that I serve.”
That’s what I hoped to speak to tonight — those questions of systemic racism that are so subtle that we don’t see them. It does not mean that we are awful human beings, but that we need to expand our vision.
(On motion of Senator Duncan, debate adjourned.)
Committee Authorized to Study the Application of Official Languages Act and Relevant Regulations and Directives and Refer Papers and Evidence Since Beginning of First Session of Forty-second Parliament
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Cormier, seconded by the Honourable Senator Woo:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages be authorized to study and to report on the application of the Official Languages Act and of the regulations and directives made under it, within those institutions subject to the Act;
That the committee also be authorized to study the reports and documents published by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, the President of the Treasury Board and the Commissioner of Official Languages, and any other subject concerning official languages;
That the documents received, evidence heard and business accomplished on this subject by the committee since the beginning of the First Session of the Forty-second Parliament be referred to the committee; and
That the committee submit its final report no later than December 17, 2021, and that the committee retain all powers necessary to publicize its findings for 180 days after the tabling of the final report.
Hon. René Cormier: Honourable senators, I move the motion standing in my name.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to.)
Long-term Care System
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Seidman, calling the attention of the Senate to weaknesses within Canada’s long-term care system, which have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hon. Gwen Boniface: Honourable senators, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Senator Seidman for initiating this inquiry and for all fellow senators who have spoken on this issue.
As you know, this is a very important issue for all Canadians. How we treat our vulnerable is a signal of the kind of country we are. Sadly, in my province of Ontario we’ve seen the devastation that befell long-term care homes during the first wave of the pandemic. The military’s intervention in Ontario in our long-term care homes brought into sharp focus the shortcomings of legislation, policy, guidance and, indeed, competence within the system. In the Royal Society of Canada’s, or RSC’s, report Restoring Trust: Covid-19 and The Future of Long-Term Care, published last July, key problems were identified. The report also noted that Canada’s long-term care facilities have a much higher incidence of COVID-19 deaths in homes compared to countries such as Australia, the United States and Spain. The RSC explains that because seniors in Canada are moving into homes at a later age, combined with the increase in life expectancy and more complex diseases to be treated such as dementia, many factors contribute to the complexity of care patients require.
Senators, there is much to be done. Statistics Canada reports that by 2030, seniors are expected to number over 9.5 million, making up 23% of our population. Over the next two decades, Canada’s senior population will grow by 68%. The over-75 age group will double.
I’d like to draw your attention to the broader issue, which is the support we give to all seniors who need only some care. We have long heard the call to allow seniors to stay in their own homes as long as possible, and this is laudable. It is often, however, a lot of talk and a shortage of action, either in policy, guidance or research by all levels of government.
I have experienced and listened to the anguish of families who try to be both children and caregivers. The unpaid caregivers are the unsung heroes of this story.
I have a friend who has cared for her mother for 10 years. She started that care the day she retired. She shared with me the significant coordination required to get personal caregivers to her home to give her relief from her 24-hour caregiving. She lives in a small town in northern Ontario, and she found it almost impossible to get ongoing support, even though her free, unpaid labour was saving a significant amount of expense and burden on the senior care system. Without my friend’s caregiving, her mother would have been in someone else’s care.
In my own experience five years ago, my father declined quickly from dementia at 95. He and my mother, up to that point, had been living alone and relatively independently. If not for the fact that they had eight children, we would not have been able to keep him at home until he passed. It was a full-time job to coordinate caregivers and family members to ensure that both he and my mother had care.
Caregivers who came from outside the family were kind, gentle and compassionate. However, the care provider would routinely call at the last minute to advise that someone had called in sick, they were short of staff and that no one would be able to come. That left my mother, at 88 years of age, to care for a dementia patient.
The hours that my parents qualified for care were constantly being re-evaluated despite the fact that my father would not be getting better. We were fortunate that my father passed at home and, while we were grateful for that, we were also exhausted and concerned that the burden of living with a dementia patient would take a toll on my mother. This is not how it should be for families and spouses of loved ones but, for many families, this is their struggle.
In London, Ontario, it was reported a few months ago that a gentleman in a wheelchair was left for three days before his replacement caregiver was sent to the home. I can assure you that these situations replicate themselves across the country.
I raise this to ensure that we don’t conclude that the alternative to living in long-term care is working any better. It is not. For so many, it is only out of love for a parent or a grandparent that they have persevered, but it is not any easier.
Senators, we need a comprehensive national strategy to address the future of the care of our aging population. We need to listen to the workers on the front lines who deal with these challenges every day, and we need to listen to families who find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
This is not about pointing fingers. This is about designing a future for almost a quarter of our population. What do we as Canadians need to do? How might we learn from all these reports? How might we work together to create national standards, proper training and proper remuneration? What about identifying best practices? How will we deal with the complexity of care in a single facility?
Honourable senators, this is the road we must take. We owe it to the most vulnerable, and we owe it to the future of all Canadians. Thank you.
Hon. Donna Dasko: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Seidman’s inquiry calling the attention of the Senate to weaknesses within Canada’s long-term care system that have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to thank Senator Seidman very much for launching this important inquiry. I also want to thank those honourable senators who spoke before me for their analyses of the situation and for sharing their personal experiences with long-term care.
I think I should consider myself lucky. My parents lived and received care for four years in a non-profit care facility in Peterborough, Ontario, and I feel that they were treated very well. My mom had Alzheimer’s, and I have to say that the staff at St. Joseph’s did the best they could with patients suffering from this most difficult and heart-wrenching disease.
Both of my parents passed away in 2018. Looking back, I am satisfied with the choices that our family made. However, I recognize that others have had entirely different and terrible experiences with long-term care. I recall, for example, Senator Pate’s sad story of instances of abuse at her mother’s care home.
Whether our personal experiences were positive, negative or mixed, the fact is that deep, systemic flaws exist in Canada’s long-term care sector. While my experiences did not expose the cracks in the system, they were there in 2018 and have been there for far longer.
According to journalist André Picard, over 150 task forces, inquiries and commissions conducted since Medicare was introduced have documented the sorry state of long-term care in this country. As Picard says:
One can’t help but be struck by how the same problems are exposed and the same solutions are suggested, time and time again.
As the title of Senator Seidman’s inquiry suggests, COVID has indeed exposed the system’s weaknesses with catastrophic results and has washed over the system not once but twice.
After the first wave, we learned from the National Institute on Ageing that 77% of deaths across Canada from COVID occurred in long-term care and retirement homes, including 80% of Quebec’s deaths and 73% of Ontario’s.
A report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information released this past March found that the situation did not improve overall for the sector in the second wave. In Manitoba, a series of outbreaks at long-term care homes, some of them chronicled by Senator Bovey in her speech to this inquiry, resulted in 480 deaths during the second wave — an increase from 3 deaths in the first. In Alberta, the second wave brought more than 1,000 deaths in long-term care, and British Columbia followed the same pattern.
In Ontario, a recent commission on long-term care found that government inaction meant that the virus gained another foothold in long-term care homes and resulted in a second wave that was far more deadly than the first. The commission’s report found that the elderly died at an alarming rate in Ontario this past winter. At one home, 118 of their 119 residents tested positive, resulting in 34 deaths. Ontario’s second wave killed a total of 3,758 residents in long-term care homes, which was up from just over 2,000 during the first wave. Nationally, Canada has lost more than 15,000 long-term care residents since the pandemic began.
As of this spring, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, deaths in long-term care homes represented close to 69% of overall fatalities in Canada, which was the worst record among wealthy countries, and 28% higher than the international average.
It is a great shame that, even after the calls for urgent action during the first wave, the second wave still caught our long-term care sector woefully unprepared. Colleagues, we would have to conclude that had it not been for the timely distribution of vaccines in long-term care facilities this year, the sector would have suffered a third time during the third wave.
The pandemic highlighted in red the underlying, long-standing and systemic issues in Canada’s long-term care sector. These include underfunding, weak government oversight, limited data collection and information sharing, profit-oriented decision making, overcrowding, aging infrastructure and underpaid, undertrained and overworked staff. This workforce is mostly women, many of whom are racialized, and many of whom are new Canadians.
To fix our systems, we need higher standards for elder care. To achieve this, governments need to increase their funding and they need to regulate more.
Let me start with those higher standards. Experts in the field, including Dr. Pat Armstrong of York University in Toronto, and others, have identified a number of conditions in the long-term care sector that must be changed. These include expanding access to quality long-term care for all Canadians, not just the most affluent; establishing enforceable minimum staffing levels, as well as staff employment and retention policies; dramatically improving the conditions of work in the sector; addressing physical environments, including things like PPE, waste removal, room size and ventilation; improving education and training for paid staff as well as volunteers; and establishing strong, enforceable reporting mechanisms rooted in data collection and transparency.
When it comes to funding the system, the federal government has indeed made several commitments. Last September, the government announced $740 million for long-term care in its Safe Restart Agreement. They announced the Safe Long-term Care Fund in the Fall Economic Statement, which set out $1 billion to be distributed over two years. Half of that funding was delivered via Bill C-14 when it passed last month. Finally, they announced an additional $3 billion in Budget 2021 that will roll out over five years.
Many provincial governments have also committed more spending on long-term care, which, of course, is a provincial jurisdiction. Ontario, for example, has promised $2.7 billion for new long-term care beds and $2 billion annually to hire new personal support workers.
So let’s acknowledge that more funding has been put on the table, and Canadians are also onside when it comes to more spending. An Abacus poll of Canadians conducted last year, in May 2020, about three months into the pandemic, found that 78% of Canadians supported increased funding for long-term care.
But it’s also essential that higher standards be set. Governments need to create better standards in the sector through better and more effective regulation in a sector that is currently already highly regulated.
Several experts in long-term care have called for national standards that would be implemented by the federal government in return for federal dollars. We heard this from several witnesses appearing before the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs in the committee’s review of the federal response to COVID last year.
For example, Dr. Réjean Hébert, former Quebec health minister, testifying at the committee last June 10, explained the necessity of federal legislation that would create such standards. This, in his view, would give the federal government legitimacy to assist the provinces in implementing services and assisting in responding to crises like COVID. “Giving more money is not enough,” he added.
National standards might be implemented via amendments to the Canada Health Act or through a new piece of legislation that would follow the structure of the CHA but focus specifically on long-term care. Yet another way to achieve national standards is through a policy framework built by a regulator or by a health standards organization that would be linked to federal dollars accessible to those provinces that demonstrate compliance and progress toward those goals.
Finally, the federal government could, in fact, scrap the concept of national standards altogether but still make bilateral agreements with the provinces to improve conditions, as they did in the Safe Restart Agreement last fall.
These are all the ways the federal government could assist the provinces in fixing the sector by way of the federal spending power.
Colleagues, make no mistake: the federal government has put national standards front and centre in their messaging on this topic to date. National standards have been promised in last year’s Speech from the Throne and in this year’s budget. With a strategy that appears to involve the Canadian Standards Association and the Health Standards Organization, who presumably will build a set of national standards that the government will seek to implement with the provinces in return for federal dollars. The budget further stipulates that funding is to help:
. . . Health Canada to support provinces and territories in ensuring standards for long-term care are applied and permanent changes are made.
In this federal system of ours, imposing federal standards on the provinces, even with substantial federal dollars, is especially challenging. As Finance Minister Freeland stated here in our chamber last November:
To have standards that work for the country, to have standards that have real buy-in from all levels of government is going to require a real process of discussion and negotiation between the provinces, territories and the federal government.
Whichever way you look at it, whether it is national standards, consistent standards or better standards, there is much work left to do.
In conclusion, colleagues, the problems of our long-term care systems are well documented, and the solutions are well understood. Canadians support more spending and they want better standards. We have lost too many of our family, friends, neighbours and fellow citizens due to inaction. I say to our federal and provincial governments, let's get it done. Thank you, meegwetch.
Hon. Lucie Moncion: Senator Dasko, would you take a question?
Senator Dasko: Yes, I will. Thank you.
Senator Moncion: In your research, did you look at the partnership that resides in long-term care facilities and retirement homes where entrepreneurs and a consortium of investors are owners of these long-term care facilities and retirement homes? Did you do any research in this part of your work?
Senator Dasko: Senator Moncion, I think you are asking about the private providers in the system. I think that is what your question is about.
This is a real issue in Ontario with 58% of our care delivered by the private sector. Many experts think that one of the ways to deal with the system is to phase out the private operators.
(On motion of Senator Duncan, debate adjourned.)
Link between Prosperity and Immigration
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Omidvar, calling the attention of the Senate to the link between Canada’s past, present and future prosperity and its deep connection to immigration.
Hon. Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia: Honourable senators, I’m delighted to respond to Senator Omidvar’s inquiry calling the attention of the Senate to the link between Canada’s past, present and future prosperity and its deep connection to immigration.
Honourable senators, allow me for the next few minutes to tell you my story and how, as an immigrant, my life has been impacted by coming to Canada.
I was born and raised in the Central African country of Rhodesia. My parents were Indian migrants. We lived in a small community in the Eastern Highlands, a farming community, and 50 Asian families — the majority of our people — were in retail trade. Life was absolutely blissful for me as a child. I went to a two-room school, I had a wonderful, supportive community and a family and siblings who loved me dearly.
However, hidden in the background was a system of apartheid, which I only began to think about through my formative years. I began to realize as I grew older that it was my ethnicity that determined where I went to school, what restaurant I could sit in, where my parents could own property, where we lived and how our entire lives were lived. I began to bear the burden of my ethnicity in a manner that led to periods of deep melancholy. I began to be weighed down like the ancient mariner of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s beautiful poem. My ethnicity became the albatross around my neck. It impacted every decision I made. However, the support of my family and friends was that education was the way out of this and that one day apartheid would end and that life would be better.
I was fortunate enough to be accepted into medical school on completion of my high school at an Asian and coloured boarding school but continued to reflect on these three parallel streams of life — White, brown and Black — with so little opportunity for any form of social integration.
I recalled the history lessons where we learned about Pericles addressing the Athenians 2,500 years ago about a government, a system of democracy, a government of the people for the people and by the people. I thought about this equitable state, a state that had eluded my own growing up. In many respects, this became a personal pursuit for me — a subliminal obsession that I hoped one day to conquer.
The year 1980 came and Rhodesia became the independent Black state of Zimbabwe. There was much celebration in the streets. There was much anticipation. But the wounds of apartheid were deep and the transition to a new government led to corruption, reverse discrimination, nepotism and, unfortunately, once again, the Asian community found themselves sandwiched in a position that was not winnable.
It was with a heavy heart that I decided in 1984 that in order to shed this melancholic life I had to make a difficult decision. I had to leave the land of my birth, the absolute unbelievable beauty of Southern Africa, the colours, the animals and the incredible people, but my life had to change direction. As every immigrant knows, that’s probably one of the most difficult decisions you make in your life, because you know you’re headed somewhere where you don’t know a single person and you know so little about the life you’re going to face.
I was very fortunate to get a position as a family doctor and GP anaesthetist in the little community of Twillingate, Newfoundland, on the northeast coast. I arrived there anxious, apprehensive, but also full of anticipation.
I often think about choices we make in life. When I do, I reflect upon Professor Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter series. “Harry,” Professor Dumbledore said to him in one of the early encounters, “it is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” That line has stuck with me for many years.
I was struck by the remarkable rugged beauty of the landscape that surrounded me, the tantalizing allure of an angry ocean that was the source of our bounty. But what a price we paid for that bounty, with loss of life and loss of care and oftentimes loss of livelihood. I was so touched by the people who welcomed me into their hearts and their homes. They showed such clarity and definition of their history. Out of the turmoil of living in this harsh climate had gelled a fierce and proud heritage that was captured in beautiful singsong lilts and a self-sufficiency that for me exemplified an endearing spirit of survival.
As a single Muslim from Africa, a little country in the middle of nowhere, I was surrounded by 2,500 Protestants and 10 Catholics. I naturally gravitated toward the Catholics and eventually married a Protestant. It was here where I met my wife Dianne Collins, whose family had been fishing on the island since the 1600s. They could trace their family ancestry back to Devon in Eastern England. They took me in as one of their own, and I was deeply moved by their resilient spirit, their deep faith and their altruistic nature with respect to every aspect of life.
As time moved on, I suddenly felt as though a weight had lifted. I was now not judged on my ethnicity but by my ability, by my humanity and by my integration into my new home. Seamlessly it seemed that the albatross that had been weighing down on my neck for so many years suddenly dissipated.
As I explored the island, I realized there was a social justice mandate that I needed to respond to. My heart went out to those who are marginalized in my community: the single mothers, the working poor, those with mental health challenges, those with disabilities, and my brethren in the LGBTQ community.
I was so moved by the many stories I heard. I was deeply touched by the community spirit, by the incredible support I got from my colleagues in every discipline, because for us to survive in a small community in the health environment, we needed to lean on each other. And I realized early on that this endearing spirit of survival, based on a foundation of adversity and challenges, had evolved into a culture of remarkable humanity.
Over time, many opportunities came my way. I was offered an academic position at Memorial University, eventually assisting with developing rural programs throughout the province, an opportunity to partake nationally in a variety of fields, but particularly distributed medical education. I became quite involved in medical politics, and I particularly enjoyed my involvement with the community: the house calls, the remarkable stories that I heard from my elderly patients, people who had been sealers, people who knew people who had frozen out on the ice. But through all of this, with a steel glint in their eyes, they continued to venture on a path of resilience.
Rural Newfoundland has been the nucleus upon which I have built my strengths but also faced my vulnerabilities. I met international graduates from all parts of the world and quickly realized that I was not the only immigrant with this experience. Physicians from every country you could imagine — it almost felt sometimes like we were a United Nations. I had colleagues who were Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, Christian — from all parts of the world — and we built up a brotherhood and a sisterhood that strengthened us in a way that’s quite unique. I could have never imagined that this sort of profound change would happen within me and my life, on the northeast coast of a small island off the mainland in one of the most remarkable countries in the world.
My wife’s support has been instrumental in the successes that I’ve achieved, and the endearing love of my two sons means absolutely more to me than anything I could ever imagine. I have had the opportunity as a medical educator to enter the lives of many young, engaged, brilliant minds, and I am so grateful that I have been able to maintain contact with so many of them. They have moved me and influenced me in more ways than one, and our reunions are always filled with laughter, reflections and recollections that are just so touching.
Colleagues, this amazing country has afforded me a life and a career far beyond what I had ever expected when I reflect back on the humble roots of my heritage in Rhodesia. This country has allowed me to continue to practise my faith. It has allowed me to maintain, with pride, my South Asian heritage. It has allowed me to maintain my soul’s connection to the red soils of Africa, where so much blood has been shed over history.
But perhaps most importantly, it has allowed me to develop the endearing spirit of a proud Newfoundlander and Labradorian, and more importantly, of a proud Canadian.
In closing, I would like to quote former president Barack Obama:
I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past. But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have. … But I think our decisions matter. . . . at the end of the day, we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.
I will be forever grateful that Canada afforded me the opportunity to get my paragraph right. Thank you. God bless.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
(On motion of Senator Martin, debate adjourned.)
Notice of Motion to Authorize Committee to Study Issues Relating to International and National Human Rights Obligations Withdrawn
On Motion No. 57 by the Honourable Salma Ataullahjan:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights be authorized to examine and monitor issues relating to human rights and, inter alia, to review the machinery of government dealing with Canada’s international and national human rights obligations; and
That the committee submit its final report to the Senate no later than September 30, 2023.
Hon. Salma Ataullahjan: Honourable senators, pursuant to rule 5-10(2), I ask that notice of motion No. 57 be withdrawn.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon Senators: Agreed.
(Notice of motion withdrawn.)
Motion to Call on the Government to Create Pathways to Citizenship or Permanent Residency for Essential Temporary Migrant Workers Across All Sectors and Table a Status Report on the Issue—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Ratna Omidvar, pursuant to notice of December 10, 2020, moved:
That, in light of a recent Nanos poll demonstrating strong support amongst Canadians to provide a way for temporary foreign workers to remain in Canada, the Senate call on the Government of Canada to create pathways to citizenship or permanent residency for essential temporary migrant workers across all sectors; and
That the Senate call on the Government of Canada to table a status report on this issue within 100 days of the adoption of this order.
She said: Honourable senators, the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of temporary migrant workers who gain entry to Canada through the so-called low-skills category. I hesitate to use the words “low skills” because we know now, and we should have known earlier, that low skills do not equate to low value — quite the opposite. We now understand how crucial these workers are to our permanent personal health and food security.
This is a sentiment echoed by many Canadians. According to a recent Nanos Research poll commissioned by myself and Senator Rob Black, more than 8 in 10 Canadians support or somewhat support providing a way for temporary migrant workers to remain in Canada. They also fully understand and appreciate how important these workers are to the agricultural sector and putting food on our tables. The findings of this poll are similar to a much larger poll conducted by Environics that found that Canadians today are much more appreciative of the essential work that migrants do.
Temporary foreign workers are not a new phenomenon. The seasonal agricultural worker program was established in the 1960s, but it was not until the 1990s that temporariness went mainstream. Since that time, the number of people who work in Canada temporarily has grown exponentially. For every new permanent resident admitted to Canada in 2019, almost three temporary residents were admitted to work or study.
Canadians perhaps don’t quite understand how much our system is now geared toward temporariness, with pathways to permanency for some and not for others. If you are a highly skilled temporary foreign worker, there is a clear pathway to pursue, but if you are in certain NOC — National Occupation Classification — categories then that pathway is well out of reach. If you are a personal caregiver, an agricultural worker, a tradesperson, a meat packer or a truck driver on a temporary work visa, the path forward is fraught.
I should use the past tense because the Minister of Immigration made a recent and welcome announcement enabling temporary foreign workers in essential occupations to apply for permanency in a short window from May to November. By doing so, Canada has created a one-time, limited opportunity for truck drivers, caregivers, health care workers and agricultural workers to apply, depending on specific criteria. By doing this, the minister has put some tired, old, sacred cows out to pasture — but only temporarily, even when the jobs are permanent. So at best, it is a short-term fix to a longer-term opportunity, but I welcome this move because it may well move the government to grasp this particular bull by the horns.
Who are temporary foreign workers? These are the people who do the work that Canadians are not willing to do, at least not over the long term. At the beginning of the pandemic, much was made of the availability of unemployed students to pick berries and strawberries and do the work of migrant workers. We now know that was simply wishful thinking. In 2017, there were close to 550,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada. Although these workers are employed in a variety of industries, the largest share is employed in crop production. That year, temporary foreign workers accounted for more than 40% of all the agricultural workers in Ontario and over 30% of all the agricultural workers in Quebec, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia.
Next on the list are individuals employed in personal households, likely as home help and caregivers. I am so moved by Senator Boniface’s comments about the search for personal caregivers and how fraught it is, because I know how essential they are. Without a constant stream of caregivers in my home, I would not be able to look after my mother. I choose to keep her at home, where she is safer and healthier at a far lower cost to the system, but this only works because I have wonderful women who help me care for her.
Although migrant workers provide essential labour, they are subject to a failed system that puts many of them at the mercy of their employers, and if their work permit is tied to an individual employer as opposed to a sector, it puts them even more at risk. Some workers endure harassment, unpaid overtime, inadequate wages or unsafe working conditions. In cases where workers live in employer-provided accommodations, concerns have been raised about substandard housing, overcrowding and employer control over personal lives and choices. I want to be clear that the abuse of migrant workers isn’t from all employers. Many treat their workers well. It is the system that is wrong, because it gives employers way too much power and too many responsibilities without appropriate frameworks and supports. It is inevitable that there will be bad apples in this basket.
There are many benefits to turning impermanence into stability for the workers, employers and Canada. Offering migrant workers the option of applying for permanent residency would remove much of the vulnerability associated with temporary status, and the employers would benefit from having a workforce made up of mostly permanent residents. Some of the work, such as animal production, food processing and greenhouse production, takes place on a year-round basis. This would also help employers maintain a stable workforce without the need for annual expenditures on recruitment, transportation, training, housing, legal and medical issues. In addition, the change would benefit workers by making it possible for them to migrate with their families to Canada. This will alleviate isolation, as well as help revitalize rural communities with not one but clusters of families from the same community.
I take an example from the history books of Italy and New Zealand. As we all know, we love Italy for its cheese, that wonderful mozzarella and Parmesan. What you may not know is that the children of the farmers in Lombardy no longer want to work at milking, feeding and keeping the cows to produce the cheese. They have all migrated to Rome, Milan, Venice and elsewhere for other opportunities. So Italy looked around for clusters of migrants with roots in the farming communities. Lo and behold, where did they find people who love cows? The place I come from, the Punjab. Lombardy is now home to many immigrant Punjabi families who have taken out citizenship, put down roots and continue to produce that wonderful mozzarella and Parmesan. The same story is told in New Zealand and, in fact, in Canada, where more than 100 years ago, the Sikh population migrated to British Columbia to work on the cranberry farms. Now many of these farms are owned by these families.
The government has many options it can use when thinking of permanency outside of time-limited pilots and one-time programs like the one the minister announced. Pilot programs, honourable senators, are only there to provide proof of concept. If that proof is there, they need to be merged into the mainstream. Should it choose to, the government should land migrant workers on arrival, much like it lands permanent residents. It could adapt the system for express entry, which is already there, to a different skill set. It could allow provinces to nominate more of these essential workers through the provincial nominee program, and it could, in fact, encourage local municipalities and their boards of trade and local farming communities to nominate immigrants to the municipal nominee program. I urge the government to proceed from pilot projects to new streams.
Honourable senators, as we reflect on our history after that wonderfully moving speech from Senator Ravalia, let’s remember that it was not just the highly skilled who built our country. Quite the opposite: It was farmers from Europe who were adept at cold-weather farming. They arrived at the beginning of the last century, worked hard, and their children today — all those successful Ukrainians, Poles, Mennonites and Germans — are our country’s leaders in many sectors. We needed those workers then, and we need them now. Let us recognize that our addiction to the highly skilled as permanent residents is a narrow, unidimensional view of the labour market. We need to embrace the labour market as a whole, more so now that we know that it comprises essential workers. Perhaps it is time for new language as well.
As I have noted in the chamber, language gives our ideas shape, influences our imagination and puts a contour on abstract terminology. I find this whole narrative of high skills and low skills offensive. All skills have value, and I would recommend using this crisis to find new language for new times.
Instead, let’s call them essential skills, which would include both health care professionals and truck drivers, engineers and agricultural workers. It would include science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, engineers and hospitality workers. It enables us to look at the labour market as a whole instead of a mere slice of it. It would allow us to finally shrug off our singular addiction to skilled workers.
It is time to do this, colleagues. I look for your support. Thank you.
(On motion of Senator Black (Ontario), debate adjourned.)
Motion Pertaining to the Residential School System—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Mary Jane McCallum, pursuant to notice of February 8, 2021, moved:
That the Senate of Canada:
(a)acknowledge that racism, in all its forms, was a cornerstone upon which the residential school system was created;
(b)acknowledge that racism, discrimination and abuse were rampant within the residential school system;
(c)acknowledge that the residential school system, created for the malevolent purpose of assimilation, has had profound and continuing negative impacts on Indigenous lives, cultures and languages; and
(d)apologize unreservedly for Canada’s role in the establishment of the residential school system, as well as its resulting adverse impacts, the effects of which are still seen and felt by countless Indigenous peoples and communities today.
She said: Honourable senators, I want to thank all of you for the statements that were made today and for your support. It is a sentiment that I will keep with me.
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Motion No. 69, which deals with the harmful impacts and legacy left behind by the residential school system. Just as I continue to search for a rationale or teachable moments from my traumatic experience in residential school, I am similarly looking for teachable moments through the instances of racism that I have experienced first-hand on the Senate floor. Attempting to understand the reasoning behind the racism is all I can do with the uncalled-for attacks on us as former students of residential schools. Although these attacks were covered by parliamentary privilege and made under the guise of freedom of speech, I am still trying to ascertain what function this targeted racism and racial profiling served.
How does one foster understanding, harmony and community from one race to another? One way is to share, hear and listen to each other’s stories in a safe way. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples provided space where former students could finally put down the burden of pretense and share the dark nights of our souls publicly — something we had never before felt safe to do. This allowed these extraordinary people to decide it was time to step courageously into the fullness of their lives.
The stories we shared with Canada, as former residential school students, are sacred stories. They are sacred stories because of the images and hurt we shared: children abducted from their families, their communities and all that was familiar; the emotional capacity we lost because we were forbidden to express ourselves; the very real emotional, physical, sexual, religious, spiritual and mental abuses that were exercised every day by representatives of the church; the breaking of family, community and cultural ties; the supervised intention to break our communication skills; and children having to look after each other. Despite trying to negotiate the daily terrain of racism and trauma that we were experiencing as innocent children, there were still bonds made between the students to connect us as family, and we remain as family today.
These stories still resonate in our memories and in our lives. Our bodies and their stories carry the historical context of racism: that a group of White politicians had decided in the 1800s to initiate an experiment that we needed to be segregated so that our identities could be shaped to be White and different from who the Creator envisioned us to be.
Honourable senators, telling our stories is related to our soul’s and spirit’s intention to increase our consciousness. Our experiences that had earlier been kept in the dark become illuminated. Bringing our stories into the light causes this dark relationship to end. I did not bring out my story to be ridiculed or challenged on the Senate floor, especially by a non-Indigenous senator.
As a Cree woman, I refuse to remain in victimhood. I was meant to be more than what other humans envisioned for me. It remains a daily struggle for me to work through the intentionally imposed trauma. Many days I have to affirm to myself that I and other Indigenous peoples matter and we cannot continue to be intentionally placed in gaps that continue to threaten our existence and identity — gaps made by the laws of Canada or by actions in the Senate.
Colleagues, in the training provided to the former senator and her assessment criteria done by the University of Manitoba after completion of the training, it was noted that:
Time was spent exploring the concept [of racism] in depth and how it is systemically embedded and entrenched within social, political and legal institutions.
On reflecting upon her past conduct, she affirmed that it did not align with her obligations as a senator in relation to racism. It was said that:
She noted how it has caused hurt and harm for Indigenous peoples and communities. She expressed sorrow as she sees how this is wrong.
It was also indicated that:
. . . she took full responsibility for her past actions and accepted that she had breached 7.1 and 7.2 of the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators.
Dr. Jonathan L. Black-Branch stated:
She leaves the program with further knowledge, ideas and understandings, equipped with new tools for approaching her professional work and her personal beliefs.
However, the belief of former students, including me, was that she left the program much as she had entered it.
In the session regarding the historical context of Crown-Indigenous relations in Canada, Dr. Miller, a Sixties Scoop survivor, provided her feedback, stating:
In particular, she probed why it was a problem to post letters from people who had not had abusive experiences in the residential schools on her website. I discussed Residential School denialism and how some people could interpret presenting only those letters as contributing to the denialism narrative as well as the reality that given how recently the Residential School system ended, we still have many colleagues and co-workers let alone elders whose lives were profoundly changed in negative ways by the experience and whose trauma is still deeply felt. Her response to this was “Oh — so it’s just too soon.”
Dr. Miller continues:
. . . I very much had the impression that she has been of the opinion that the success stories of a few served as justification for the pain of the experience with regard to Residential Schools and 60’s scoop in particular. I hope that it is widely recognized that just because one has survived a painful ordeal and had a successful life afterward, does not justify the pain one endured or demonstrate that the pain was necessary for the success to be achieved.
Indeed, Historical Trauma scholarship suggests that refusal to recognize and or validate the trauma is a trigger likely to deepen the trauma, which I think is directly related to the issues with her website.
On the former senator’s training — which focused on privilege, fragility, microaggressions, triggers and anti-racism practice — Dr. Miller states:
We also discussed privilege and how it blinds you to the oppressions experienced by those who do not have access to the same privileges . . . .
Dr. Miller continues:
We also explored in great detail the ways in which colonialism as an ideology always relies on systemic racism to justify displacement, extraction, theft, and psychic or physical violence. Racism can exist without colonialism but colonialism is always accompanied with a prejudicial narrative, often encoded in law, to justify colonial acquisition.
Honourable senators, in author Diane J. Goodman’s paper entitled Oppression and Privilege: Two Sides of the Same Coin, she states:
Generally, when societal inequalities are discussed, the focus is on how certain groups of people are disadvantaged — discriminated against, mistreated, and oppressed. However, an equally significant aspect is how other groups of people are advantaged — receive unfair and unearned benefits and privilege because of oppression. In this article, I describe oppression and privilege as two sides of systems of inequality, both of which are important to understand and address to achieve greater equity.
Privileged groups establish the societal norms and standards by which other groups are judged. They have greater institutional power and control, and get to set the laws, policies and practices that impact others. . . .
Advantages and disadvantages are cumulative, they are not simply unrelated one-time occurrences. This is one reason why an historical perspective is critical. We cannot understand today’s situations without appreciating how the past has shaped the present and continues to shape the future.
Under the subtitle of “Characteristics of Privileged Groups,” the author states:
People from privileged groups generally lack knowledge of the oppression others face.
Unless individuals from privileged groups make a conscious effort to learn about and get to know people from disadvantaged groups, and then have honest conversations about the realities of being from a subordinated group, it is unlikely they will develop a meaningful understanding of that form of oppression. . . .
People from privileged groups generally lack an awareness of one’s privilege.
People from privileged groups generally deny or avoid looking at others’ oppression and their own privilege.
. . . the dominant narrative is that there is equal opportunity for everyone and that the country is meritocracy—people get what they deserve. . . . It is easier for people from privilege groups to deny that there is a problem or blame the people who are disadvantaged than to look at how they themselves are complicit in the oppression of others. . . .
Honourable senators, it is an unfortunate reality that Canadians followed the story of racism played out in the Senate beginning in early 2017 through the posting of inflammatory and incendiary letters that depicted former students of residential schools in negative, stereotypical fashion. These attacks, stemming from the activity of a former senator, came randomly without reason or provocation and with the intent to have these racist attacks remain on the national news.
My question is: Why was this former senator allowed to continue expressing her troubling views for as long as she did without a more forceful, decisive, unified and meaningful challenge from the Senate?
To understand racial discrimination in Canada, we must focus our efforts as parliamentarians on those who have the power to undermine this institutional racial discrimination. The Senate and the House of Commons have not looked at the part they play, intentional or not, in perpetuating this institutional racism and discrimination.
Honourable senators, I encourage you to join me in the debates on unbraiding the racism, discrimination, violence and abuse that occurred with the making of the residential schools and its resulting adverse impacts, the effects of which are still seen and felt by countless Indigenous peoples and communities today. This is an opportunity to acknowledge the harm that these schools have done as well as engage in change. This change will come by senators acknowledging the ongoing costs of the oppression of Indigenous peoples and the need for broader social and political change. I encourage you to join me in speaking to and supporting this motion, culminating in an apology which will redress much of the damage that has been sown from the Senate on this matter, both historically and of late. Thank you.
(On motion of Senator Francis, debate adjourned.)
Motion to Condemn the Philippine Government’s Unjust and Arbitrary Detention of Senator Leila M. de Lima—Debate
Hon. Marilou McPhedran, pursuant to notice of February 17, 2021, moved:
That, in relation to Senator Leila M. de Lima, an incumbent senator of the Republic of the Philippines, who was arrested and has been arbitrarily detained since February 24, 2017, on politically motivated illegal drug trading charges filed against her by the Duterte government, and who continues to be detained without bail, despite the lack of any material evidence presented by the Philippine government prosecutors, the Senate:
(a)condemn the Philippine government’s unjust and arbitrary detention of Senator Leila M. de Lima;
(b)urge the Philippine government to immediately release Senator de Lima, drop all charges against her, remove restrictions on her personal and work conditions and allow her to fully discharge her legislative mandate;
(c)call on the government of Canada to invoke sanctions pursuant to the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law) against all Philippine government officials complicit in the jailing of Senator de Lima;
(d)call on the Philippine government to recognize the primacy of human rights and the rule of law, as well as the importance of human rights defenders and their work and allow them to operate freely without fear of reprisal; and
(e)urge other parliamentarians and governments globally to likewise pressure the Duterte government to protect, promote and uphold human rights and the rule of law as essential pillars of a free and functioning democratic society in the Philippines.
She said: I move this motion standing in my name and welcome this opportunity to show support for a sister senator incarcerated unjustly.
As a senator from Manitoba, I speak with an especially heavy heart today having heard from colleagues such as Senators McCallum and Christmas when, as a contested state, Canada is confronted by even more evidence than was provided in the final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission so ably led by our colleague former senator Murray Sinclair.
I wish to acknowledge that I am a resident of Treaty 1 territory, the traditional territory of Anishnaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation. I also wish to acknowledge that the Parliament of Canada is situated on the unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabek First Nations.
Honourable colleagues, I rise today at the beginning of Filipino Heritage Month in Canada to ask you to turn your minds and hearts towards another senator. Allow me to share this senator’s own words:
Everything that almost every person takes for granted has been denied to me.
. . . The ability to say ‘Good morning’ to my loved ones . . . . The ability to hold my grandchildren. The ability to kiss my mom on the cheeks. The ability . . . to praise my son . . . Israel, who has autism, on his latest beautiful artwork.
Colleagues, this denial is ongoing after more than 50 months and is the result of opposition senator Leila de Lima being forced to live in a cell in the Philippine National Police headquarters, having been scooped on the order of the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, in February 2017 and charged with smuggling drugs for a drug lord that she had actually prosecuted while Secretary of Justice.
Colleagues, the Honourable Leila de Lima was a dedicated public servant, the chair of the Commission on Human Rights of her country before becoming Secretary of Justice and then a senator. As Secretary of Justice, prior to Duterte being elected president, she crusaded against internal corruption, exposing a former president, a number of senators and other senior politicians. Later, as a member of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, de Lima spearheaded an investigation into extrajudicial killings in the name of the Duterte administration’s brutal war on drugs.
I will stop there for this evening.
(At 9 p.m., pursuant to the orders adopted by the Senate on October 27, 2020 and December 17, 2020, the Senate adjourned until 2 p.m., tomorrow.)