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Perspectives — May 29-June 1, 2018
Perspectives — May 29-June 1, 2018
June 5, 2018
OPINION

Last week at the Senate: Expungement of unjust convictions, the Cannabis Act, climate change and agriculture and cash-for-blood.

Government

Canadians who were unjustly convicted based on their sexual orientation can clear their names thanks to a new law adopted in the Senate last week.

Bill C-66, the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act, corrects a great wrong against LGBTQ2 Canadians who, for decades, have lived with a criminal record after having been convicted for engaging in consensual sexual activity with same-sex partners.

The charges are considered historically unjust because, among other things, they’re inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Bill C-66 allows these Canadians to request that the record of their unfair criminal convictions be destroyed. Representatives, such as family members, can also apply for an expungement on behalf someone who has died.

The legislation acknowledges the unjust nature of these convictions and offers a remedy to those convicted. It is part of a larger government effort to correct long-standing discrimination against LGBTQ2 Canadians.

Senator René Cormier, who is a member of the Independent Senators Group and the bill’s sponsor, spoke eloquently about how the new law is an important step toward ending stigmatization, discrimination and prejudice for Canada’s LGBTQ2 community.

There is more to do to make Canada fully inclusive and respectful of everyone’s fundamental rights, but Bill C-66 is a significant advance. It cannot change the past, but it allows the government to accept responsibility for the burden of shame and guilt the wrongly convicted may have borne for simply being who they are, loving who they choose, and living life on their terms.


Opposition

Last week, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology held clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act

When Bill C-45 came to the Senate, Conservative senators demanded it be the subject of a thorough examination. We insisted that the Senate Leadership agree on a process, as they did on February 15, to ensure constructive efforts that would allow senators to study Bill C-45 at five different committees. 

Witnesses came before committees with expert testimonies to help senators understand the implications of the proposed legislation on marijuana. This due diligence has provided for unanimously supported recommendations and observations that were clearly outlined in the various committee reports. 

Some of the unanimous recommendations made by other committees were rejected by seven committee members on the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. We are disappointed that the Independent and Liberal senators, who have historically supported government legislation, would neglect to support the unanimous recommendations brought forward by their own colleagues.

Senators have a responsibility to respond to informed concerns in a manner that carries out the Senate's constitutional responsibilities and protects the best interests of Canadians. It is therefore incumbent upon the Senate to continue to give Bill C-45 a fulsome analysis and, pursuant to that analysis, to amend it in a way that minimizes its negative impacts and safeguards Canadians from its unintended consequences. We intend to do just that through the remaining stages of the bill as we approach the June 7 third reading vote.


Senate Liberals

This week I had the opportunity to question the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, about this government’s actions to address climate change and its impact on farmers.

I asked because the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, of which I am a long-time member, has been studying the potential impact of climate change on the agriculture, agri-food and forestry sectors for more than a year. Members have heard from a variety of witnesses, including producers. They told us how changes in climate are already affecting them: quick melts, flooding, extreme weather events, having to change crop varieties to suit new local conditions better, or refining their pest management strategies.

While Canadian farmers are perennially adaptive, they told committee members that they could benefit from government support when facing these new climate change-related challenges. 

When I asked the minister what the government was doing to address these serious problems, I was encouraged by his reply. As a farmer himself, I heard that he understands these concerns, and has been working to address them. He noted the usefulness of risk management programs, and the dollars invested in agricultural research, in agricultural clean technology, and in research into greenhouse gas mitigation.

The importance of the agriculture and agri-food sectors to the Canadian economy is tremendous.  The federal government must continue to do its part to ensure it can continue to grow and thrive for years to come. 


Independent Senators Group

It was with both pride and sadness that I introduced Bill S-252 (The Voluntary Blood Donations Act).  Pride that the Senate will now tackle this issue, and sadness that, 20 years after the tainted blood crisis, we still haven’t moved to fix an obvious problem. This bill, I hope, will prevent us from repeating history.

The tainted blood scandal took thousands of lives and infected thousands more. Over 30,000 Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C. It is estimated that over 8,000 Canadians will yet die as a result. And it was a preventable tragedy.

The government of the day appointed Justice Horace Krever to investigate what went wrong. Today we must remember his plea — to protect our blood supply by ensuring it remains a voluntary system and not a cash-for-blood system.

Cash for blood incentivizes the wrong behaviour. Canadian donors are not meant to be a revenue stream for private companies looking to make a profit. And there is evidence that a cash-for-blood system undermines the voluntary system.

Private paid plasma clinics in Canada do not benefit Canadians. They are not integrated into our blood system.

As Justice Krever stated, a fundamental value that must guide the blood supply system in Canada is that blood is a public resource, given altruistically by persons in Canada for the benefit of Canadians. We need a moratorium on new cash-for-blood clinics and Health Canada must heed the advice of Justice Krever and Canadian Blood Services.

Let’s be better safe than sorry.