Budget Implementation Bill, 2022, No. 1

Second Reading

June 14, 2022

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-19, the budget implementation act, but specifically to one small section, one that adds a new crime to the Criminal Code. Bill C-19 creates a new offence to prohibit the communication of statements, other than in private conversation, that willfully promote anti-Semitism “by condoning, denying or downplaying the Holocaust.” This new crime would be punishable by up to two years in prison.

I should explain that the Holocaust loomed large in my childhood imagination, growing up in Edmonton in the 1970s. My father’s family was one of the very few in Alberta who succeeded in sponsoring some relatives who were able to escape Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938, just weeks before Kristallnacht.

Mackenzie King was a polite anti-Semite and his government’s attitude towards Jewish refugees was “none is too many,” yet my father’s mother’s cousin Luba was somehow able to win the support of her MP from Vegreville, who, according to family lore, fought for a special order-in-council for visas to allow my grandmother’s first cousin Rosa, her husband Hans and their small children, George and Helen, to escape Vienna just in the nick of time.

That was little short of a miracle at a time when Canada had pretty much barred the door to desperate Jews. Most European Jews were not so lucky. In September 1941, the Nazis occupied the area around Poltava, in today’s Ukraine, where my grandmother’s family had come from. By November of that year, every single Jewish resident of the once-thriving Jewish community had been executed. The Nazis didn’t even wait to send them off to concentration camps; they simply shot them all.

On the other side of my family, my mother’s family were ethnic Germans living in that same part of the Soviet Union we now call Ukraine. When the Nazis invaded, my mother’s father and uncles were forced into the German army. My grandfather perished on the Russian front. But one of my great-uncles — tall, blond, courtly and educated — ended up recruited into the elite Waffen-SS. He spent the rest of his life trying to atone for that.

The war was something we talked about a lot when I was growing up, but I can pinpoint the moment when the Holocaust became more real for me. I was 8 years old and in Grade 3. That year, I had a Jewish teacher who decided, in a well-meaning way, that I might enjoy the little fairytales written by Anne Frank, stories she wrote while hidden away in her Secret Annex sanctuary. I don’t think my teacher meant for me to read Anne Frank’s diary itself, but I tracked it down and read it anyway, transfixed. I wasn’t too young to read the words, but I was far too young for the horror of its message. My 8-year-old self spent the next few weeks searching my parents’ house looking for places where we could hide when the Nazis came for my family. Would the basement cedar closet do? No, too small. The furnace room? Too obvious. The attic crawl space? Just maybe.

As I got older, I became a bit obsessed with the Holocaust. I used my Scholastic Reading Club form to order every book I could get, from When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit to William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler.

I knew the German people hadn’t been monsters, that they’d been ordinary people like my own beloved aunts and uncles. Yet, millions of ordinary Germans had been corrupted, seduced and intoxicated by the toxic lure of anti-Semitism to the point where they were willing to look the other way or even enthusiastically participate as their Jewish friends and neighbours and relations were rounded up, arrested and massacred.

I looked a lot like Anne Frank. At the age of 8 I had to ask myself: Would the day ever come that my nice ordinary Canadian neighbours might turn on me and people who looked like me? I had dark, curly hair; thick glasses and a prominent nose. Was that all it would take for someone to want to kill me, to see me as subhuman?

Let me be very clear. There is no good-faith way to debate or question the reality of the Holocaust, one of the best‑documented, well-researched atrocities in modern history. Anyone who questions or denies or diminishes its full horrors is not engaging in authentic, intellectual debate; they are spreading hate. Holocaust deniers are hatemongers. There is no way to question the reality of the Holocaust that is not, by definition, anti-Semitic.

Downplaying the Shoah is every bit as morally vile. When people who oppose masking rules pin yellow stars to their chests or dare to compare vaccine mandates to the Nazi war crimes prosecuted at Nuremberg, their facile appropriation of the horror of the Holocaust dishonours the memory of all those who died and all who survived.

Yet, my friends, today I rise in this chamber to oppose Bill C-19’s efforts to criminalize the denial or downplaying of the Holocaust.

Attaching criminal sanctions to such statements and actions won’t reduce anti-Semitism. It will, however, give neo-Nazis and racists a platform to play the martyr, to wrap themselves in the rhetoric of free speech and to claim the public spotlight as faux defenders of intellectual freedom. Is this funny? I don’t think this is funny. Maybe you could stop laughing. How do I know this will not work?

Forty years ago, Alberta was convulsed in a political and legal debate over Holocaust denialism and the trials of Jim Keegstra. Keegstra had been a high school social studies teacher in the Town of Eckville. He taught his students that the Holocaust was a hoax, faked by an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world and the global economy. He taught this horrific hate for years without being stopped by any principal or school trustee until one heroic mom, Susan Maddox, fought to have Keegstra fired. He was finally fired in 1982. Two years later he lost his teaching licence.

So far, so good, you might think. But in 1984, Jim Keegstra was also charged criminally with the willful promotion of hatred. That case, fought all the way to the Supreme Court twice — there and back again — finally concluded in 1996 with a conviction and a sentence of 200 hours of community service — a pyrrhic victory at best.

The landmark legal precedent in the Keegstra case established the constitutionality of Canada’s hate speech legislation. And, alas, that probably means that Bill C-19’s Holocaust denial provisions are also perfectly constitutional. Yet, far from silencing Keegstra, those 12 years of appeals and retrials gave him a bully pulpit to posture as a false defender of civil liberties and to amplify his conspiracy theories. He basked in national notoriety.

In 1987, he was catapulted from being a village schoolteacher to the leader of the federal Social Credit Party. Meanwhile, Keegstra’s lawyer, a fellow Holocaust denier named Doug Christie, used the profile he gained while defending Keegstra to become the founder and leader of the Western Canada Concept party. And all the while Keegstra and Christie were gleefully making headlines and spreading lies, anti-Semitic hate crimes in Alberta actually spiked.

The morals of my story? First, we don’t need this new law. As the Keegstra case amply demonstrates, denying the Holocaust is already a hate crime; this is redundant. Second, and more importantly, prosecutions of this type often have ugly, unintended consequences.

This stealth addition of a Criminal Code amendment to a budget bill could well open the door for hundreds of new hate-mongers and bigots to claim victimization, to strut and fret their hour upon the stage, spreading their bile via every social media channel, in ways Keegstra could never have imagined or dreamed of. He had a small captive audience of Eckville schoolchildren. Today, anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers spray their bile to hundreds of thousands of people with the click of a keyboard.

I have spent my whole life as an advocate for free speech and civil liberties. I learned that from my father of blessed memory, from my uncle of blessed memory, from my grandfather of blessed memory, all passionate Jewish civil libertarians who taught me early to not trust in the power of the state as protection.

I do not believe we can fight hate by criminalizing speech, however vile or deluded. Nor by silencing it, even if we could. Driving hate underground to curdle and fester doesn’t help.

Once we start to criminalize speech, to police what is true and what is false, once we use the Criminal Code and the criminal courts to silence the nasty political fringe, we start down a path that leads precisely where we do not wish to go. And the decision to slip this new crime into the budget act, where it cannot be properly debated and voted on independently, will only convince the paranoid and the conspiracy-prone that they are correct. This strategy plays right into the hands of the far-right thought scammers and grifters.

I have no doubt that the government is well intentioned in its Bill C-19 efforts. Many in the Jewish community have advocated for this very change. Many in the Jewish community will disagree with me vehemently, and, if I know my Jewish community, they won’t be shy to tell me so.

But my father had a line he liked to use, half-jokingly and half not — “Is it good for the Yidden?” he would ask. “Is it good for the Jews?” This bill will not be good for the Jews, nor for Canada. Nothing good comes from this.

Instead of criminalizing lies, instead of criminalizing speech, let us fight back with truth. Let’s be sure we tell the real stories of the Holocaust and of the rise of Hitler, over and over. Let’s record and remember and reamplify the stories of the survivors, before they themselves are overtaken by time and no longer with us to bear witness.

Especially now, with hate crimes of all kinds multiplying, with social media platforms aerosolizing hate, racism and anti‑Semitism, with hate-mongers and neo-Nazis marching proudly through our streets, with mainstream Canadian parliamentarians embracing and spreading conspiracy theories and classic anti‑Semitic tropes, with a new Abacus Data poll showing that one third of Canadians believe in some version of the anti-Semitic great replacement theory, we must call out lies and champion truth.

But instead of arresting and charging every online hate-monger and troll — a next-to-impossible task — we should focus instead on making the big tech platforms more transparent and more accountable for the way their algorithms privilege and promote incendiary hateful speech.

Indulge me with one last story. In 2019, Library and Archives Canada acquired an extraordinary book for its collection. Compiled by German intelligence in 1942, the slim volume details how and where to find the Jews of North America. While it begins with American data, the final section of the book contains detailed demographic data for Canadian Jews.

Pasted onto the inside front cover? A bookplate reading, “Ex Libris Adolf Hitler.” Yes, we now own Hitler’s personal guide to hunting the Jews of Canada. It contains reports on the populations, mother tongues and national origins of the Jews of Canada. It starts with Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg, the cities with the largest Jewish populations at the time.

But the book also notes, precisely, that there were 1,622 Jews in Calgary, and 1,057 in Edmonton. Among those Jews so carefully counted in Edmonton? My own father, my aunties, my uncles and my grandparents.

Just think of it: Hitler had every single member of my Jewish-Canadian mishpachah enumerated. My own family, living their quiet Canadian lives. Every single Canadian Jew located, counted and described.

When I held that book — Hitler’s book — a book that the architect of the Shoah likely held in his own two hands, I felt a literal chill — I was holding a concrete testament to Nazi plans to bring the Holocaust to Canada.

The Holocaust wasn’t just something that happened “there” to “them.” It could have happened right here. And the hate and the evil that engendered the Holocaust? They’re not gone. They are all around us once more.

I used to laugh at the memory of my 8-year-old self, the one who tried to hide from imaginary Nazis in her mother’s closet. But when I see anti-vaxxers sporting their mocking yellow stars, when I see people marching down the streets in our capital waving swastikas, when I read the emails in my inbox spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric, I’m not laughing anymore.

But criminalizing Holocaust denial or Holocaust downplaying, whatever that might be, is not the answer. This bill is dangerous. This bill is misguided. It aids and abets those who would divide and destroy us. And for the sake of the Canada I love, the country that gave my family sanctuary and peace, I cannot and will not support it.

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne [ - ]

Senator Simons, first, thank you for this speech. I’m not going to ask you questions about the Holocaust or your views on it. I believe that, as a Jewish person, you are in the best position to talk about the Holocaust, since you know about it through your family. You have certainly taken a critical look at it.

Having said that, you expanded on your comments by saying that the web is full of hate speech, and that is true. We are faced with an incredibly difficult societal problem that clearly can’t be solved with criminalization. We are faced with the web, where there is a tremendous amount of prejudice against youth, women and vulnerable people. When young people take their own lives because of the hate they see and hear on the internet, we have to wonder about freedom of expression, which I believe in, as do you. We were both journalists at one time, but we can no longer react to this issue, because it is difficult to respond individually.

My question is as follows: What are we doing to combat the hate circulating on the internet, not specifically about the Holocaust? We can’t say that we’re going respond in such and such way and that it will be met with the truth.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Senator Simons, your time has expired. Are you asking for more time from the chamber to answer the question?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Agreed to for five minutes.

Thank you, Your Honour. That is a good question. It’s the real question, the question that is central to this debate. I would like to answer in French, but that is a little harder for me.

I was just having dinner with Taylor Owen, who co-authored a report with Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin that came out just last month that looked at this question of how we deal with online harms. Their argument is that you cannot deal with each individual act of hate speech or each individual harmful act. You must turn to the platforms themselves.

We had a very interesting conversation at dinner this evening about what they have been doing in Britain and what they have been doing in the EU to try to compel the platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to be more transparent and more accountable and to do a kind of risk assessment so that they can look at the great volumes of complaints.

I think that is where we have to begin, by asking those giant tech platforms to be more accountable, not just for what they allow to be posted, but for what their algorithms choose to put to the top of the page. Because when something provokes a strong response, YouTube, Facebook, Google, that’s what boosts their metrics. So stuff that is often the most hateful and the most incendiary is the stuff that gets fed to the most number of people.

I don’t think that it is useful to criminalize the vile, hateful stupidity of each individual Canadian. We have to go to the source of the poison in the well. That is probably a bad metaphor because that was always the canard against the Jews, namely, that they were poisoning the well. Perhaps that’s why it came to my mind so flippantly. In truth, until we as a society are willing to confront what we are doing, not much will change.

Honourable senators, how is it possible that, in Canada, in 2022, we have mainstream politicians trafficking in the tropes of anti-Semitism? What are we doing to call it out? What are we doing to say, “I read The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler when I was 10 years old. I know how this story goes.” It is incumbent on each and every one of us in this chamber to ask ourselves whom we are supporting. To whom are we donating? What causes are we countenancing? What are we going to do to make sure that our capital and our country are not overrun by people whose intentions are nothing but evil?

Hon. Rosa Galvez [ - ]

Would the honourable senator accept a question?


Senator Galvez [ - ]

I see a lot of parallels with what you are saying and the issue of diffusion pollution and source pollution. I am also for tackling the source instead of dealing with the upstream consequences.

Time is passing from the issue with the Jewish people and the world. There will soon be fewer people who have lived that experience. As you have said, how can we keep this memory alive so we don’t ever forget?

There are provisions in this same budget to provide more funding for facilities, for museums and such that recognize the history of the Holocaust. We don’t have a lot of time left to get oral histories from the survivors and to capture their memories on video and audio.

As horrible as the Holocaust was, in time, it will retreat into history. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism has not been forgotten. During the last two years of COVID, in particular, it has accelerated and it has come back — not from the dead, but like a zombie. Holocaust denialism is as real now as it was 50 years ago. It is absolutely essential, first, that we record and remember those who suffered while they are still here to bear witness. Even the survivors who are left were mostly children at the time.

With every other horror in the world — and, goodness knows, there have been plenty of other horrors and other genocides — and with every year that we slip further and further away, what worries me is not just that we will forget the Holocaust but that we will forget the lessons of the rise of Hitler. We see strong men in countries around the world engaging in behaviours that would have looked very familiar in 1934 and 1935. As much as we have to remember the victims of the Holocaust, we also have to remember that we are all the descendants of the world left in the wake of the Holocaust. If we can’t learn those lessons from history, the consequences for future generations will be extremely problematic.

Hon. Ratna Omidvar [ - ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on the budget implementation act, and I will focus my remarks on areas that I have directly interacted with.

Before I go there, I want to thank a few outstanding female parliamentarians in this chamber and on the Hill. At the top of my list is Senator Moncion. This is not the first time she has sponsored a complicated budget implementation act with many moving parts. She has done that with her thoroughness, her grace and her elegance and brought us up to the point today.

I also want to thank Senator Marshall, who has always helped us understand different money matters, whether they are the BIA or the budget or the different supply bills. I continue to listen to her with great attention.

Finally, I want to thank another woman, again on matters of finance. It’s not an accident that I am thanking women on matters of finance. This is the Honourable Minister Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Finance, who has embraced proposals that may not be part of the government platform but come from private impulses either in the House or in the Senate. I really hope that there will be a time when I will want to thank the more than a few good men on the Hill on the same item.

The BIA includes four measures that first found life either in the Senate or in Commons public bills. They include Bill C-241 by Conservative MP Chris Lewis, which sought to amend the Income Tax Act for travel expenses for tradespersons. We have heard Senator Moncion comment on this.

The second is Bill C-250 by Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, who would amend the Criminal Code to provide a prohibition on the promotion of anti-Semitism. We have just heard Senator Simons on this.

The third and fourth measures reflect proposals that I tabled here in the Senate which were debated, studied and approved by this chamber.

I also want to thank Senator Wetston and his contribution to the BIA in terms of the Canadian Competition Act, which has already been noted. I think this is proof that some good ideas — I would say “not all good ideas” after having heard from Senator Simons, but some good ideas — no matter from which party or corner of the Senate or the Hill they emanate from, can and do find a home in government legislation. It requires hard work, the patience of Job and a good measure of good luck. Above all, it demonstrates yet again that good ideas have long legs.

I would like now to turn to the two measures in Bill C-19 that are voiced on the two bills now included in different ways in the BIA: Bill S-217, the Frozen Assets Repurposing Act; and Bill S-216, the Effective and Accountable Charities Act.

Let me start with Bill S-217, the Frozen Assets Repurposing Act. I want to remind myself and all others who are listening in that this gem of an idea did not come from me. It came from civil society, the World Refugee & Migration Council. They have been integral as thought leaders and influencers in this important initiative.

I welcome the measures that the government has put forward in this bill. They are very similar to Bill S-217. Therefore, I have decided that my bill will not move forward once their bill becomes law because the government’s proposal follows the principle of my bill, which is to repurpose already sanctioned assets held in Canada to benefit the victims of the criminal activities, whether these victims are individuals, communities or nation states.

However, there are a few differences that I believe deserve to be highlighted. The BIA, the government’s proposal, not only covers corrupt individuals, as I proposed, but also extends to entities such as corporate entities. I support this improvement in the bill as it casts a wider net to catch those who are aiding and abetting corrupt regimes. It also includes a measure to include crypto-currencies as assets, which I had not thought about. In this way, the government has actually improved on the proposal that we sent to them.

Another principle of the bill was transparency and accountability. Here, the government’s proposal takes a slightly different route. One of the key components of my proposal was the use of the courts to determine if the assets could or should be repurposed, how they should be repurposed and to what accountability. This was designed to ensure due process for everyone involved, including the corrupt official.

In the government’s version of this proposal, the courts will be involved, but their participation will be limited to the verification and ownership of the assets. They will not be tasked with redistribution of the assets to the victims. Once the courts have completed their investigation and made a decision, the assets will be liquidated and paid into the government for redistribution. The government will then be responsible and accountable to the victims and to Canadians.

Colleagues, I believe this is one area that needs a bit of further thought by think tanks, by stakeholders and by government. The government must repurpose the assets in an open, transparent and accountable way and take — as much as they can — politics out of this equation.

Big questions need to be asked, such as: Who should receive the assets? Should it be the countries of origin or a country that is seeking restitution, such as Ukraine? Or would it be individual victims as opposed to communities or nation states? How would the assets be distributed? What accountability mechanisms are needed? These are important questions that need to be answered, because the government surely does not want to be accused of inappropriate distribution of funds or, worse, appropriation of funds for their own use. Although I’m sure it won’t go that far.

The last difference I would like to highlight is actually a bigger reason for concern. The budget implementation act, or BIA, does not include a public registry which would list the individual entity or the assets they held in Canada. Instead, the information would remain under lock and key. I know that the government is moving forward with a beneficial ownership registry in 2023, which may alleviate some of our concerns. However, I fear this may not be enough. Indications, at this stage, are that the registry will cover only federally regulated businesses, and this would likely create a loophole as entities that incorporate provincially would not be included. We should keep this in mind when their proposal for a beneficial ownership registry comes our way.

Finally, on this point, we learned recently from the RCMP that over $123 million in assets in Canada has been effectively frozen in the last six months alone. That does not cover all the assets frozen under the Special Economic Measures Act or the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, also known as Sergei Magnitsky Law. It just covers a small slice of them. I’ve always been challenged when people have asked me how much money there is. Now, we know. It is not billions of dollars, but it is not chump change either.

We also know that the concept I have tabled is not new. Switzerland has been repurposing assets for the last 10 years and has repurposed roughly US$22 billion worth of assets. France brought into force a similar law a few years ago, and neither of them has been accused of breaking international law.

Let me now shift to Bill S-216, a bill that was debated, studied, approved and sent to the House of Commons and whose aim is to enable accountable and empowered relationships between charities and non-charities. In the BIA, the government went so far as to say their amendment reflected the spirit of Bill S-216, the proposal that I tabled.

I would like to, again, remind colleagues that it was the charitable sector — and by that I mean the many charities spread across our nation in every corner, in every sector — that was squarely behind the efforts of Bill S-216. They included Imagine Canada, Canada’s umbrella group of charities; Cooperation Canada, which deals with international development; the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities; and the United Way Centraide Canada, as well as 42 of Canada’s top charity lawyers who, in two open letters, all called for a change to this law. I want to say, again, that I was simply the parliamentary instrument to move their ideas forward. They worked, advised and pushed parliamentarians to take note of this issue. I tip my hat to them.

The government’s proposal adopts the principle of my bill, which is to enable charities to work in an empowered, yet fully accountable manner, with non-charities. However, once again — and it is their right to do this — the government used a different route, and this different route had, frankly, a bit of a rocky start. It was surprising to us that the government’s original language in the BIA was more prescriptive than the current law. It put into law a number of prescriptions, as opposed to leaving them as guidance, that the charity must fulfill when working with a non-charity. This was problematic in many ways.

As I have mentioned before, charities want and need to have strong accountability measures. However, the government, in its original version of the amendment in the BIA, provided a list of prescriptions that had to be met no matter the size, scope, type or purpose of the charity’s partnership with a non-charity. This was problematic because not all partnerships are the same, and not all accountability measures fit those partnerships. We heard from the ground that this prescriptive way would make it riskier for charities to work with non-charities, and no responsible director on the board of a charity would authorize their charity to take the risk of going down a path which could result in the delisting of their charitable status.

After much mobilization in April and May by the sector and through my collaboration with the Minister of Finance’s office, with Conservative MP Philip Lawrence, who sponsored Bill S-216 in the House of Commons, and NDP MP Daniel Blaikie, the House of Commons Finance Committee unanimously amended the BIA to get rid of these prescriptions. Instead, the accountability measures will be determined in consultations and in guidance. This will better fit the size and the complexity of the sector as it goes forward.

Once again, I thank the government for being open to and flexible in listening to this last-minute hurrah that we had to engage in and for being prepared to change and adapt their response. I want to commend the government for keeping their lines of communication open.

However, as always, there is no complete path to perfection, colleagues. There is a new amendment, which has given rise to some concern. It is the new anti-directing rule. Directed gifts are fairly common, but the new amendment will put a stop to this. For example, there are a lot of Canadians and organizations who want to help fund aid efforts for the situation in Ukraine. As drafted in this amendment, it is conceivable that all donations given to the Red Cross that are directed by donors to efforts in Ukraine could be grounds for the loss of charitable status, because those are directed gifts. A directed gift is when I give money to a charity, and I direct the charity to give money to x,y and z somewhere else.

I have, however, in further conversations with the Minister of Finance’s office, been assured that the government will take a soft approach to this amendment, that it will be applied in a reasonable way by the CRA and that it would not limit the creation and participation of Canadian charities in pooled funds. I believe and I sincerely hope that the government will follow through on this promise, but the sector and I will continue to work with the government and monitor the progress to ensure that it follows through with the amendments or else someone in this chamber, likely me, will table an amendment at some time in the future.

In conclusion, I support these measures in the BIA. I’m encouraged that the government has recognized individual actions by parliamentarians. Good ideas, a lot of hard work and persistence, and, above all, the voice and leadership of civil society can move issues that we care about a long way. Thank you, colleagues.

Hon. Brent Cotter [ - ]

Would Senator Omidvar take a short question?

Senator Omidvar [ - ]

In 30 seconds, absolutely, senator.

Senator Cotter [ - ]

I was impressed by your presentation and I thought there was only one absence. In your list of women senators who are contributing to this, I thought there was one shortcoming, and I’m asking whether you would be open to adding the name Ratna Omidvar to that list?

Senator Omidvar [ - ]

I am not in the same class as my colleagues Senator Marshall and Senator Moncion. I’m happy to take their lead. Thank you.

Hon. Rosemary Moodie [ - ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the budget implementation act. A few weeks ago, I was honoured to be invited to give a keynote address at a conference led by Campaign 2000, a leading group in the fight against child poverty.

I remarked then that when I was first appointed to the Senate in December of 2018, I could have never imagined the societal upheavals that would follow soon after: the murder of George Floyd, the rising prominence and the reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, climate emergencies becoming increasingly prevalent in Canada and around the globe, economic crises and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. Simply put, Canadian society, our views and priorities have changed so much in such a short amount of time.

Of course, COVID was the accelerator, forcing us to examine the gaps in our society we had ignored for so long. It reinforced for Canadians that an economy is about people and that, regardless of the stock market or the annual GDP, if Canadians are living in poverty, struggling to access services or unable to build a life for themselves and their families, then, colleagues, our economy is not working.

COVID taught us once more about the collective imperative of our economy and that it only truly works if it works for all Canadians. Our approach to public policy has not reflected this collective obligation for over half a century, and we are now living with the consequences of these decisions.

Lack of housing, inadequate and insufficient public services, food insecurity and so many other issues are rooted in an approach to public policy that has forgotten that our role as parliamentarians is to build our country, our society, on a vision of equality and of equity for all.

Lacking in some significant ways, Budget 2022 is, in my view, a timid step in the right direction for many Canadians. For many others, it falls short. I want to take some time this evening to discuss what this budget means for children and youth. There are some good things in the budget. One of the most important investments announced was $625 million over four years for child care infrastructure.

As I outlined last year, universal and affordable child care will have life-changing effects for millions of families, unleashing the economic potential of parents — mainly women — and ensuring more children have the early care and education that can set them on a path of a life of happiness, success and productivity.

The agreements with provinces and territories to lower costs are going to increase demand and address the need for physical space. This investment is needed and it is timely.

The budget also includes several other important commitments, including a $4 billion housing accelerator fund that would seek to build 100,000 homes in the next five years, a $25 million pilot project to make menstrual programs available to all who need them and $5.3 billion over five years for dental care. These new programs will directly impact millions of Canadians for the better. In this respect, the government is to be congratulated.

Nonetheless, I do feel that, in some important aspects, this budget fails to tackle some of the most pressing social issues and presents a vision for the future that is, in large part, timid and somewhat lacklustre.

Colleagues, despite all the good things that Budget 2022 does, I believe that, overall, it has left children and youth behind at a time when they need our support the most. One in five children in Canada lives in poverty; for status First Nation children, it’s one in two.

The increased cost of living has made it harder for more Canadians to make ends meet and has increased the struggle for those who barely got by before. Yet, the budget is short on providing increased income supports for families, whether through an increased Canada Child Benefit or any other supports.

One third of food bank users are children and one in eight families are food insecure. Yet, despite the admission that food insecurity will be increased due to the war in Ukraine, little has been done in the budget to address this pressing issue.

UNICEF Canada’s most recent data indicates that only 55% of children and youth report a high level of child life satisfaction, while more than a quarter report feeling sad or hopeless for long periods of time. I have heard from many stakeholders in the pediatric medicine world that this budget offers little in the way of meaningful solutions to address youth mental health issues.

By applying a lens that focuses on children’s needs and rights, it becomes evident that this budget contributes to a status quo that is not serving our children very well. Therefore, I would like to take a few minutes to discuss where bold and urgent action is needed to improve the status quo by sharing a few of the highlights from Canada’s recent review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The committee’s concluding observations were published last week, painting a bleak picture of Canada’s performance and outlining the ways that Canada must change if it respects the rights of children.

At the outset of its report, the committee called Canada’s attention to issues surrounding the independent monitoring of rights: non-discrimination, the right to life, survival and development, abuse and neglect, children deprived of a family environment and the standard of living. They point to elements as fundamental as the right to life and survival and development as areas that require significant growth here in Canada. While this may not be surprising, it ought to be very disturbing for us.

Regarding independent monitoring, the committee urged Canada to establish a federal advocate for children similar to the one that I have championed in the past. This would be key to ensuring that all work at the federal level, including future budgets, is considered through a children’s rights and well-being lens.

On discrimination in Canada, the committee was deeply concerned about:

(a) The discrimination against children in marginalized and disadvantaged situations in the State party, such as the structural discrimination against children belonging to Indigenous groups and African-Canadian children, especially with regard to their access to education, health and adequate standards of living;

(b) The apparent disparities in the treatment of children and their rights within the different regions and territories, especially with regards to children with disabilities, migrant children, children of ethnic minorities and others.

The committee went on to call for the end of structural discrimination in Canada. Budget 2022 does include some elements to continue tackling racial discrimination, but we would do well to hear this reminder of how grave these issues are. We would do well to understand that we are not doing enough in this area.

On the right to life, survival and development, the committee called on Canada to fully implement the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The committee also recommended Canada implement a national strategy on the prevention of violence against children, strengthen its preventative measures aimed at avoiding the removal of children from their families and revise its strategy to address water and sanitation issues on reserves.

Notably, regarding child poverty, the committee observed that Canada should:

Ensure that all children and their families living in poverty receive adequate financial support and free, accessible services without discrimination . . .

These are some of the many areas where Canada would do well to improve. But the unfortunate truth is that we didn’t need the UN to tell us about these issues because they are well known to us. This report was a reminder of a truth we know, a reminder that we need to be more ambitious in how we seek to ensure the rights of children are respected. So it makes me all the more disappointed with the budget and with its timidity.

The review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child concludes with a reminder that, in addition to our failures in a number of policy areas, we lack a comprehensive approach to ensuring the rights of our children and ensuring their well-being. Colleagues, this is an observation that should not surprise us. How do we get to our destination if we don’t know where we’re going? How do we build something better and stronger without a plan?

We will never get to that destination if we don’t know where we’re going and we will never build something stronger without that plan.

So what should we be doing?

First, Canada has not implemented comprehensive legislation on children’s rights; this creates an important gap in our vision.

Second, we don’t have a strategy. We lack a comprehensive approach to ensuring the rights of our children and for ensuring their well-being; a strategy to bring together the resources, ideas and energy currently being expended; a strategy that defines our targets and desired outcomes; a strategy that identifies the indicators that we would use to measure success and progress and that will help us to understand if we’re advancing in our vision.

None of the necessary elements of success currently exist, and we need to change that. Colleagues, on many social issues, Budget 2022 will have a positive impact, although it fails to consider the many challenges facing our children and youth and their families. The status quo has left many behind, and it is time we identify a path toward progress.

I am looking forward to working with you all on this. Meegwetch, thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Are senators ready for the question?

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

It is moved by the Honourable Senator Moncion, seconded by the Honourable Senator Pate, that this bill be read the second time.

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): On division.

(Motion agreed to and bill read second time, on division.)

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