THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The Senate of Canada - Human Rights Committee / Le Senat du Canada - Comité des droits de la personne
OTTAWA, Monday, April 24, 2006
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 4 p.m., pursuant to rule 88 of the Rules of the Senate, to organize the activities of the committee.
Ms. Vanessa Moss-Norbury, Clerk of the Committee: Honourable senators, there is a quorum. As clerk of your committee, it is my duty to preside over the election of the chair. I am ready to receive a motion to that effect. Are there any nominations?
Senator Carstairs: I move that Senator Andreychuk chair this committee.
Senator Ppin: I second that motion.
Ms. Moss-Norbury: It is moved by the Honourable Senator Carstairs that the Honourable Senator Andreychuk take the chair of this committee. Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Ms. Moss-Norbury: I declare the motion carried. I invite Honourable Senator Andreychuk to take the chair.
The Chairman: Thank you, honourable senators.
I hope we can continue the work that we have started. Some of you are new to the committee and will catch up. You are free to contact me at any time to get my perspectives on our work. You may also talk to Senator Carstairs, who has been here throughout our study. Our new clerk has been well briefed and can give you any related background materials. That will put you in good stead to catch up with the work that we have been doing.
It is now time to move to Item No. 2 on our agenda, the election of a deputy chair.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I move that Senator Carstairs be elected as deputy chair.
The Chairman: Is everyone in agreement?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: We will move to Item No. 3.
Senator Carstairs: I so move.
The Chairman: Senator Carstairs moves that the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure be composed of the chair, the deputy chair and one other member of the committee to be designated after the usual consultation; and that the subcommittee be empowered to make decisions on behalf of the committee with respect to its agenda, to invite witnesses and to schedule hearings.
Senator Carstairs: I move that Senator Munson be the third member of the steering committee.
The Chairman: Are we having consultation regarding that matter?
Senator Carstairs: We have had consultation up to this point.
The Chairman: Could we move the motion first?
Senator Carstairs: Yes.
The Chairman: That would be the appropriate way to do it.
Senator Carstairs: I move the motion.
The Chairman: You are part of the motion. Could we get one of the senators to move the motion that the chair and deputy chair and one other be elected?
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I so move.
The Chairman: Senator Lovelace so moves. Is there agreement?
Senator Munson: Yes.
The Chairman: We have had our consultation, and we are inviting Senator Munson to be the third member. I understand he is in agreement with that.
Senator Munson: I graciously accept.
The Chairman: You know that the steering committee will be composed of the chair, deputy chair and Senator Munson. The next motion is to print the committee's proceedings.
Senator Carstairs: I so move that the committee print its proceedings and that the chair be authorized to set the number to meet demand.
The Chairman: Is there agreement?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Moving on to Item No. 5, authorization to hold meetings and to print evidence when quorum is not present.
Senator Carstairs: I move that, pursuant to rule 89, the chair be authorized to hold meetings to receive and authorize the printing of the evidence when a quorum is not present, provided that a member of the committee from both the government and the opposition is present.
The Chairman: Is it agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Item No. 6, financial report.
Senator Carstairs: I move that the committee adopt the draft first report prepared in accordance with rule 104.
The Chairman: Has that draft report been circulated to members?
Senator Dallaire: It has not been seen.
The Chairman: It was not seen by some. Do we have extra copies? Were they circulated to the offices?
Senator Carstairs: My office did not get it.
The Chairman: We will circulate the draft report to all of the members. This is the paragraph with regard to filing a report of expenditures from the previous session?
Senator Carstairs: That is right. It has nothing to do with this session.
The Chairman: It is not the budget for the coming session. It is the obligation that the first act of any committee, upon resuming its work, files a financial report of the expenses incurred by the committee in the previous Parliament.
This is the report for the first session of the Thirty‑eighth Parliament, and this is what we would be filing. It is the money we have spent on our various studies.
Senator Dallaire: Do we have any background for that budget, or are we just bringing it into official recognition?
The Chairman: We are held accountable. This is the money we have spent for the previous session.
Senator Dallaire: Is this committee held accountable for that, or are we just acknowledging that it existed?
The Chairman: You have put it in an interesting way.
I think you are held accountable for it in the sense that you delegated those responsibilities to a chair, vice‑chair and a steering committee, people who have actually gone through spending the money. The report reflects what our best understanding is.
No, you cannot be sued, if that is what you are asking.
Senator Dallaire: No, that is fine.
The Chairman: It starts with filing a budget. You will scrutinize it, review it and approve it. Then, between the administration, the clerk and her office and the steering committee, we are responsible for ensuring that they are passed in accordance with what was approved.
Senator Carstairs: Technically, we are not responsible because we could be an entirely different committee. None of us could be the same people that were on the previous committee, but the Senate rules require that the first thing we must do is to report on what was spent by the previous committee.
If the Senate chooses to question that report, the legitimacy of the questions are actually directed to the previous chair. The previous chair is the same chair in this case, so there would be a direct line of accountability.
However, in most cases it could be an entirely different set of people that were engaged. Reconciliation statement would be the best word to describe it rather than a budgetary statement.
The Chairman: The way it was explained to me when I assumed my first position as chair was that we are responsible for ensuring that we present a budget to the extent that we can, and we know the money has been expended. The obligation lies with the clerk when we travel, for example, to submit those expenses to the chair to sign off on.
Senator Carstairs is quite right. I was assuming I was there before and after, but I have scrutinized it, and it is in accordance to what we actually expended, to the best of my knowledge and ability to scrutinize. I have not done a line‑by‑line analysis. I have accepted the clerk's recommendations and summaries.
Senator Dallaire: That is exactly what I meant.
The Chairman: Are we in agreement?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: The next item deals with the research staff.
Senator Carstairs: I move that the committee ask the Library of Parliament to assign analysts to the committee;
That the chair be authorized to seek authority from the Senate to engage the services of such counsel and technical, clerical and other personnel as may be necessary for the purpose of the committee's examination and consideration of such bills, subject matter of bills and estimates as are referred to it;
That the subcommittee on agenda and procedures be authorized to retain the services of such experts as may be required by the work of the committee;
And that the chair on behalf of the committee direct the research staff in the preparation of studies, analyses, summaries and draft reports.
The Chairman: Is it agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: This committee has relied on the library. In the study of international covenants and treaties, these people are hard to come by.
We were fortunate to have the help of Laura Barnett, who has an expertise in certain areas of international conventions and has provided a broader perspective. She is here, and I will invite her to join us, as the library has indicated that she can continue to serve this committee. Welcome back to the committee, Ms. Barnett.
The next item deals with the authority to commit funds and certify accounts.
Senator Carstairs: I move that, pursuant to section 32 of the Financial Administration Act and section 7, chapter 3:06 of the Senate Administrative Rules, authority to commit funds be conferred individually on the chair, the deputy chair and the Clerk of the Committee;
And that pursuant to section 34 of the Financial Administration Act and section 8, chapter 3:06 of the Senate Administrative Rules, authority for certifying accounts payable by the committee be conferred individually on the chair, the deputy chair and the Clerk of the Committee.
The Chairman: Is it agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Next is travel. Would some other senators like to move motions? We are at 9.
Senator Munson: I move that the committee empower the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure to designate, as required, one or more members of the committee, and/or such staff as may be necessary, to travel on assignment on behalf of the committee.
The Chairman: Is it agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: No. 10, designation of members travelling on committee business.
Le snateur Ppin : Je propose que le Sous‑comit du programme et de la procdure soit autoris :
1) dterminer si un membre du comit remplit un engagement officiel au sens de l'alina 8(3)a) de la politique relative la prsence des snateurs, publie dans les Journaux du Snat du mercredi 3 juin 1998, et
2) considrer qu'un membre du comit remplit un engagement officiel si ce membre: a) assiste une activit ou une runion se rapportant aux travaux du Comit; ou b) fait un expos ayant trait aux travaux du Comit.
The Chairman: Is it agreed? Is there a question?
Senator Carstairs: I want to put on the record that I take this designation very seriously. I have seen it abused ‑‑ not by this committee; I want to reassure the members of this committee. However, I have seen it abused by other committees. As far as I am concerned, if the whole group of us is travelling to hear witnesses, obviously that is covered under here. If one of us is going to a conference and is gathering information for the rest of us and will share that information with the rest of us, that, obviously, is to be included. However, that is the extent of what I think should be included in this designation. Maybe because I have worn hats as both deputy leader and the Leader of the Government in the Senate, I think attendance in the Senate, since we meet usually about 75 days a year, is pretty critical. I am loath to give blanket permission for people to use this clause to do things other than specific work for this committee. I want that to be on the record.
The Chairman: I share your point of view, because I have not ever accepted the designation like this. However, I must say that when this committee was trying to finish up a report and meeting some deadlines, there were some conferences that we thought would give us the kind of information we needed, and we canvassed all members to see who was available to go. In fact, we ended up designating only our researcher to go. I think we have been very cautious and I hope we continue to be that way. It is on the record. Perhaps the other committees should take note.
Senator Dallaire: I am not fully versant on the nuances of this. It is not public yet but I have just been made a member of the committee on genocide prevention by Kofi Annan. It is not a government duty; it is a duty for the UN. The question will be whether or not, if I have meetings during Senate time, I am actually dispensed from Senate duty to do that. I am a little concerned if I have to go to the committee ‑‑ and this is my real question ‑‑ to ask for support for this or similar related duties.
The Chairman: I would suggest that it be something you take up with your leadership.
What we are talking about here ‑‑ and I know where Senator Carstairs is coming from is that there have been instances when people say, "I am dealing with" ‑‑ take any topic you like. You can go to the Internet and find all kind of conferences and say, "I would like to see this one or this one." They then go before the steering committee and say, "I would like to go on such‑and‑such a day to this conference because it will be helpful to the committee." However, it was not something initiated by the committee. It is very hard to say no to one of your colleagues, but we are signalling that we probably will say no unless it is a compelling reason that helps the body of the work.
Your own travel and whether that counts for that is a leadership issue. I do things with international organizations. I have to negotiate whether it falls within the parliamentary rules and I can say it is Senate business, or whether it is public business or a day absent. Those are the kinds of issues I would not want to answer for you.
Senator Dallaire: No, I was just seeking advice on this.
The Chairman: That would involve your leader. This is not what we are talking about. We are talking about things that you would attend saying, "You are studying it and I can help you out by going to that," which is a totally different issue.
Senator Dallaire: However, if a subject is on the agenda of the committee and there is a member who has a certain expertise in that area who wishes to pursue that expertise with regard to the subject in the committee, then what do we do? Do we write a memo to the chair and try to work something out?
The Chairman: Yes, and then the steering committee meets to discuss it.
Are we agreed on that one?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Carried.
Next is No. 11, travelling and living expenses of witnesses.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: It is moved by the honourable senators that pursuant to the Senate guidelines for witness expenses, the committee may reimburse reasonable travelling and living expenses for one witness from any one organization and payment will take place upon application, but that the chair be authorized to approve expenses for a second witness should there be exceptional circumstances.
The Chairman: Is there agreement?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: This rule was put in a few years ago in particular with regard to one committee that I sat on, where we would invite an organization to give evidence and they would show up with five, six or seven people, not having discussed it with the clerk, and then would seek to have all of the people reimbursed. The rule is one witness per organization and, exceptionally, two, if it is merited, which the chair can authorize, but it does not give us authority to go beyond that. In speaking to people who want to come to testify, I have tried to make it clear to them that they can seek a representative spokesperson to speak for them.
Senator Nancy Ruth: If they come on their own tick and are willing to pay for themselves and their colleague or the person who is presenting, is there some sort of procedure that he or she can go through to get time here, even though we only pay for one? How does it work?
The Chairman: Basically, we invite the organization. If they want to bring three people and we only pay for one, they can apportion their time. Normally, subject to discretion, we say 20 minutes or a half an hour per group. If they want to take five minutes each, they can do that. We have often had, for example, the Canadian police organization come to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee with a number of members, but we do not pay for them. They decide who speaks for them and in what order.
Next is No 12: Electronic media coverage of public meetings.
I think Senator Dallaire should move this one.
Le snateur Dallaire : Je propose que la prsidence soit autorise demander au Snat la permission de diffuser les dlibrations publiques du comit par les mdias d'information lectroniques, de manire dranger le moins possible ses travaux; et que le Sous‑comit du programme et de la procdure soit autoris de permettre cette diffusion sa discrtion.
The Chairman: Is it agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Item No. 13 is that the time slot for our regular meetings is at four o'clock on Mondays. I should say that when this committee started we were designated, as was one other committee, to Mondays. We did canvass other things, such as sitting on a Thursday or a Friday or sitting all day on a Monday, and this is where we ended up, having gone through many senators and many senators' wishes. This worked out best because of travel for senators who come from the east and the west. However, we have exceptionally ‑‑ and there are rules in which we have to seek concurrence of the two whips ‑‑ sat outside of these times. That is the normal rule for all committees. At present we are at four o'clock on Monday and we will sit until six or seven.
Senator Munson: How long normally do you sit?
The Chairman: Until 6 or 7, depending on witnesses or the subject matter.
Senator Munson: That is good because I have hockey at 8.
The Chairman: That takes care of the organizational meeting.
For the newer members, I will take a moment and say that we started out studying the machinery of human rights, and particularly the international machinery which was being studied by no one else. It was of concern in the academic, legal and NGO communities and others as to how we go about getting ourselves into treaties, conventions and agreements. What role does Parliament play? How does it affect the implementation? Is it implemented?
We did the largest study, which was "Promises to Keep." We had four or five subject matters to pursue further under "Promises to Keep," areas that witnesses brought to us and said that this area of implementation of treaties is extremely important in Canada and needs to be updated. That was almost a universal issue. How to go about it, however, was not so universal. Everyone had their own idea how to do it.
We have continued that reference as we come to each Parliament because we have done work out of that study and we have an ongoing reference that we can at any time bring in witnesses if there are any changes in any of those areas. I would invite all of the senators to read "Promises to Keep," and I am suggesting that we continue that reference.
Out of that study, we did the Aboriginal women on reserves and we did the Organization of American States the convention and the inter‑American court studies. We finished both of those studies. We filed them with the Senate, the Senate approved them and we sent letters to the minister to reply to the reports.
In some cases we got replies. Some were diplomatic but not very helpful, saying they will continue to look into it and they are working on it. In the case of Aboriginal women on reserves, we went one step further and told the government to stop consulting, that the issues were known, and to move to negotiate with the Aboriginal leadership. The last report was called "Still Waiting." It was filed and we demanded that the government proceed.
I am suggesting that in those two studies, namely, the Aboriginal one and the OAS, it is clear what we think the government should do. They have not said it is the wrong thing; they just say they are going to do it but they never quite get to do it. What we are suggesting, from talking to Senator Carstairs, is that we continue to pursue the new government now and that we write to the new ministers, remind them of these reports and attach them. Basically, we will give the same advice to the new ministers that they move on with these studies. I will be asking in a moment for your concurrence of that. Those are the two issues that we have to date specifically studied out of "Promises to Keep." We actually got the matrimonial study one as a separate reference. We did not take it out of the "Promises to Keep."
One other one we did was the Public Service Commission. There was some concern of human rights issues on hiring and firing practices, basically on getting more diversity into our Public Service Commission. We looked at issues of minorities, particularly visible minorities but also others that I would not call quite minorities women in management positions and upper echelons of the public service. We got a reference to review the Public Service Commission with respect to human rights aspects mainly the issues of discrimination we were looking at. We have had a brief and from time to time have called Maria Barrados, the chair of the Public Service Commission, to come here and testify about what they are doing. As you know, we passed a new act with the public servants, and we had Ms. Barrados come and talk to us about how she is implementing it to find out how she intends to raise the level of visible minorities, other minorities, Aboriginal people and women in all aspects of the Public Service Commission. She has been rather forthcoming.
We also had Mr. Mel Cappe at the time, from the Privy Council Office, come and talk about that. There was some discussion about responsibility of deputy ministers and others to promote competent people in these matters, and if there was some discrimination. We have been following this issue and I think it would be appropriate that we continue to do so.
We pointed out that while the reports of the Public Service Commission are filed in Parliament, no one does much with them. This committee could study the human rights aspects, as we called them. That would be one that we would like to continue.
Senator Dallaire: On that one, I have two points. First, have the unions come forward or been heard here?
The Chairman: We have not particularly called them and they have not particularly asked to meet with us. The unions have contacted me to talk about the Convention on the Rights of the Child, not on the Public Service Commission. They made their views known to the government and I think they prefer to do it that way, but I am only inferring that.
Senator Dallaire: However, it would be interesting to know how it views that. As a union, its responsibility is also to promote such affirmative action.
The other thing is that there are grumblings of ex‑military veterans being not responded to by the Public Service Commission. It started in 1993 with the non‑parachute clause and they are now raising that as a human rights point. That might start appearing in a more concrete fashion in the months to come because of the change in Bill C‑45.
Senator Carstairs: I think it is important that we make it clear, particularly to the new members of this committee, that we do not deal with individual cases. That has been a commitment that we made from the very moment that this committee was formed. Certainly we do deal with class cases, a group. For example, if a particular public servant has a complaint against the government, we do not hear those cases; but we do hear the generic cases. That is where it is critical and that is where we have been going with this particular reference. It was Senator Oliver who wanted us to go down this road. His particular concern, obviously, was the under‑representation in our public service of members of the visible minority community.
As members of the committee, you will get a number of emails now that they know you are a member of the committee which will indicate that I have this wonderful case that you should be dealing with in your committee. We would like if members would respond the way that the committee has been authorized, which is that we do not deal with individual cases; we do deal with groups of cases or with systemic problems.
Senator Dallaire: Do you have a format answer? That would be helpful.
The Chairman: If you get those letters and you are not comfortable in responding, I encourage you to make them available to the clerk because chances are we are all getting them and it might be helpful to know. You may not know about some of the background because we have already received some of them. I think there will be some people who will contact you that have already contacted us in the past and they will continue to pursue me and you. I also tell them that not only do we not handle individual cases, I make it very clear that there are processes within our governments and elsewhere for complaints. We can give advice to the government, to the Senate or we can simply comment, for what it is worth, on an educational value, et cetera. We do not want to be seen interfering with all of the processes in place because it is often a controversial issue. People say that this committee should be involved because it is the Human Rights Committee. Our point is to go to the RCMP complaints commissioner or to the public service complaints commissioner when there is an issue. A number of visible minorities came and were filed. We agreed that at some time when they had exhausted all their appeals, we might look at the cases generically but not in the process. We will not comment on and interfere with a quasi judicial or judicial process.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I am quite happy to send all of these to the clerk because I have had many in my past life when we did only general cases and not specific ones. I do not know all of these places within government so I would like the clerk to do it. Is this acceptable so that I could send all of them to you? I will not touch any of them.
Ms. Moss-Norbury: Certainly.
Senator Munson: In respect of people now living in Canada who were part of a group of perceived international cases of genocide in various conflicts in the world, do they have a right to appear before this committee to talk about what wrong they believe has been done to them and to ask for a study of the issue or would the committee ignore such an issue?
The Chairman: It has to come through here as a reference and the Senate would authorize what we can or cannot study. You know that. It is no different than any other committee. The subject matter has to be approved by the Senate.
You said "genocide issue," but let us take a different one: human trafficking. We could decide to study the case of human trafficking, and we have discussed that. However, someone would have to craft the reference, bring it before the committee and convince members that it should be studied. The committee would take it to the Senate for approval and then submit the budget. We can study ancillary issues to the references we have now. The Public Service Commission, for example, gives us an opportunity to talk about all kinds of issues on visible minorities and the problems that arise for them, such as immigration or citizenship, because our reference is flexible enough to do that. We have to work through those issues. I do not think I can say yes or no to your question. We do not want to get ourselves into a political debate. That would be counter productive. If there is genuine concern, and it is not a case of one person or one incident, with sufficient depth for a study then we could do that. All of our studies have begun in that way.
Senator Dallaire: As an example, the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against humanity falls within the area of human rights but it is also a judicial exercise. Would such a subject be brought before this committee? Do we prosecute or should we not be prosecuting more people who are coming into the country as refugees although they might be on someone's genocide list?
The Chairman: That is why the question is difficult to answer. I know that the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and NATO all have responsibilities and we should not tamper with those. However, if there were something about prosecutions in our extradition law that was troublesome, I could see a reference being brought here saying that it is precluding justice and so we should study the implication of our law in that respect, or the way in which our law is being administered. I would ask the committee to approve the continuance of these references. As well, I will talk about how to finish the study on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I would then ask members to think about what the committee should look at next. We have some weeks to discuss and formulate a plan. It might be helpful to be in a position at the end of June of finishing the study on the Convention on the Rights of the Child while thinking about what we could do legitimately to further the cause of human rights in an appropriate way.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I came in with a list of six items that I am particularly interested in. I would like a chance to share them with the members of the committee, although some of them have been talked. I do not want to wait until June.
The Chairman: We only need to have the decision by June for our researchers.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I would like to hear from other senators what interests them and what they would look at, even the issues you have mentioned, so that we know what people care about.
The Chairman: Could I have a moment to finish my references and make my pitch as to why we should continue them? I will recap. The ongoing list we promised to keep will not be a time issue but rather it will be the back ground of our obligations internationally. We should be aware of it and structure what we study as a backdrop of promises to keep. We might want to do something more with it.
On behalf of the Senate, we have taken on the responsibility of monitoring the work of the Public Service Commission on the issue of human rights. It is a valuable ongoing reference.
There is also the matter of Aboriginal matrimonial property, which we studied. Now, we want to bring political will to get it done. That will not take the committee's time but will take our energy to continue to press the government to do something.
The final one is the Convention on the Rights of the child, which the committee took on as a major study to determine to what extent the Canadian government had implemented, and by implication the provinces, the Convention on the Rights of the Child for the children. I would urge members to read the interim report that the committee filed in November, when, as senators will recall, Senator Pearson was retiring. She and I spoke to the report on that occasion. The report does contain some recommendations. We used it as a template to point out how the Canadian government has or has not implemented international human rights legislation. Some elements address international conventions in the human rights field. For example, Parliament is totally excluded. We neither know about them before nor after. Please read the report rather than take your time here. We studied the convention to determine how it was being generally implemented. In the next phase, we hope to look at certain articles within the convention. We have identified the ones that witnesses brought to us out of concern, such as Aboriginal youth, youth discrimination, corporal punishment, human trafficking and child soldiers. These issues were identified for study in greater depth.
Committee members travelled overseas and more travel can be done when necessary. We looked at how other countries had implemented the convention. Norway has fully implemented the convention through political will, not administrative will. Other countries have implemented parts of the convention or at least live by the spirit of it, but they are not bound by it. Please read the report wherein these things are identified.
We travelled to the Atlantic to seek the opinions in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We had proposed travel to Montreal and Toronto to pick up the witnesses that we did not appear before the committee here. We had proposed to travel west as well to Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg.
I say Manitoba because we thought we would go out of Winnipeg to a reserve. We identified certain areas that we thought we could study rather than repeat the same problems and issues in each area so that we would cover them more in depth. Unfortunately ‑‑ or, fortunately, depending on which side of the table you sit ‑‑ an election was called, and we never finished the western tour or the Montreal‑Toronto portion of if it.
We are asking that we continue the convention reference and this in‑depth study of the particular areas and that we do the Montreal, Toronto and the western tour. If we could do it quickly and get it done before June, we could then have the opportunity to write the report over the summer, look at the drafts and file in September. We could do more, but we can make our point about the convention and touch those areas if we build on what we already have and apply all the evidence from the previous hearings and finish the hearings. That would mean that we could be in a position to either take one area out of the convention for further in‑depth study, or we could go on to new references.
My proposal is that we move quickly today. If you were in a position to say that we could continue the four references, then I would look to someone recommending we do that. We could then explore, as Senator Nancy Ruth has said, where to go next.
Senator Carstairs: I wanted to add, for those members who have not been a member of the committee, that when the chair indicates that the major study is the one we are doing on children, she is absolutely right. Most of the others, with the possible exception of a meeting at which we again call the chairperson of the Public Service Commission to get an update on how they are moving to reach their target, the rest would all be done by letter. The letters would come to this committee for your approval. We are talking about a situation in which a 15‑minute session can take care of those letters because they were saying, This is what we have done, this is what we have said, and this is what the government has said. Where are you now? Where are you moving? Where are you going to?
We have only approximately eight weeks of meetings before we rise for the summer. To finish anything other than the children's report at this point would be highly unlikely. That is provided we get the travel permission to do the travelling to finish the children's report.
At that point, we should have a relatively clear agenda. We should be finished in terms of meetings and using meeting time. We have not discussed this, but I think that is why the chair is saying that it is time for senators to put on the table the bulk of our work for the fall and into the rest of the time.
If we start going into references other than the ones that we have before us, then I do not think we will finish the children's study, and that would be unfortunate. We will not then be able to move on to something because we will be mired.
There is one motion that we do not have here, and I bow to the clerks previous and present. I think we will need a motion in which we subsume all previous testimonies.
The Chairman: That is after we get the reference from the Senate. We have the four references. Perhaps we could have some discussion about whether we continue them.
Senator Carstairs is quite right. The bulk of your time would be on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have invested heavily in it. There is an expectation in the community and elsewhere that we complete it. We purposely put the individual clauses that we were studying for the second phase. We sped up our report, and we were rather efficient in doing that and covered most of what we wanted to meet for that November deadline. Most of it is there, and it is a question of whether we want to confirm everything in that report and build on the specific areas. I would encourage you to do that, and then we can share today and during the next number of weeks talk about areas you would like to study. Then maybe we can come to some consensus by the time we adjourn.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Senator Carstairs, these proposals for after we have finished with children, how developed are they? What do they look like?
Senator Carstairs: There are none, as far as I know of.
Senator Nancy Ruth: If one wanted to make one, are we talking about a factum for a law and order?
Senator Carstairs: No, we are talking about a reference similar to one of these. You have a series of motions in front of you. My recommendation is if you have an issue that you would like to study, bring a motion forward to the committee saying that the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights be authorized to study the following. Bring it to us as a group. We might flesh it out, shoot it down or do anything with it we choose to do, but from your perspective, very short and to the point.
The Chairman: I would suggest that we first kick around ideas, as they say. The clerk is here to assist us in drafting a motion. That step is important because we want the reference to be as flexible as possible. We say, "We want to study this," but you want to make sure that it is generic enough to cover all aspects of what you want to do. You may do less of one area and more of other. Once we have some idea of what the ideas are, then we can start to hone in on them. When we came to the convention on the rights of the child, there was a discussion of why we are studying it and what its aspects are. When we came down to it, it was the implementation of it in Canada, whereas before some of us were concerned about other aspects of it.
Senator Nancy Ruth: With respect to the children's convention, if we decide to do that ‑‑ and I am happy to do it ‑‑ is there room to add something? I have had a look at the report, and I might want to add one or two things. Is there room to do that, or is it fixed now and you want to get it out?
The Chairman: You should share your ideas of where you want to go, and what witnesses there might be. If it is under the convention of the rights of the child or a natural flow from it, then you put your idea to your fellow senators, and the steering committee has to flesh it out and say that we can handle it or we cannot. Sometimes it is money, logistics and time that we are trying to put together, and that is why we have a steering committee for implementation of your idea.
Are there any other comments? Is there a motion?
Senator Ppin: I have a question. I was part of the committee, and at one point I travelled with the health committee when you were traveling, and I found my note. It was children in detention and there were many questions about that.
The Chairman: Yes. If you read our report in November, go to it. The one thing that was pointed out was the exception that Canada made under the convention of the rights of the child where they can put children with adults.
Senator Ppin: That was my question.
The Chairman: The over subscription of Aboriginal children in incarceration and so forth were raised by witnesses. If we do our western trip, we will get a lot of that. One of the areas we thought we would do is juvenile justice in Saskatchewan. There has been a lot of work done and many Aboriginal groups could help us with it.
Senator Carstairs: I will move all of the motions.
The Chairman: There are four motions, and you will move all four of them, dispensing with reading of them. I have talked about them long enough.
Is there general agreement that we pursue them?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: I will table the report of the Senate committee tomorrow, the first report, which is the financial one that we have agreed to, and then I will introduce the four motions and get agreement. We then have to go to the Internal Economy Committee to get the money that matches this. Internal economy is yet to be structured, as I understand. I do not know if they were this week or not.
I would propose that we take the budgets that we had before for these issues on the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the others. We had some small amounts of money. I will then produce those as a budget for the committee to approve, but we will not reinvent the wheel, we will just use the monies and the amounts of money and the travel monies that we thought we needed to complete the report. We do not need to go restructuring all that, I hope.
Senator Carstairs: In fact, the Internal Economy Committee never really gets restructured in same way. It always exists. Therefore it is in existence but it is an existence with the old membership. Sometime there will be a meeting where the new membership is convened, but I understand that they are doing a particularly sensitive study at the moment which deals with internal matters, and a decision was made not to strike them until that had been finally dealt with. Whether it will happen this week or not I do not know.
The Chairman: My understanding was that the present committee, unless this sensitive study is not completed in the foreseeable future, my understanding was that it would be and therefore the new committee would start to address all the budgets. If they do not then they will have to determine what they do with all our budgets and it is their issue. However, we have to get the references first and then the budget before we can proceed. That is how we propose to go.
Is there agreement on all the four motions?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Thank you.
Usually this is just an organizational meeting. We have gone beyond that so we are being very efficient. With the patience of all senators, perhaps we would go around the table and if there are some ideas that you want to start to plant in the next area, let us do so. It will no preclude anyone going back thinking about it and coming back with new ideas and we will make our final decisions.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I wanted to continue also with the children's support. I did not know if we were actually looking at it again and you have talked about how it will flow, but two of the issues that really concern me are issues that girls face are or can be fundamentally different from the ones that boys face. I would like that to be somehow reflected in the report. Also, the issue of children who live in single‑parent families, and how that is different from those who live in two‑parent families and others. I am also curious to know, and you have raised the issue of Aboriginal children, how race is a factor in Canada around children's rights and should we be looking at that.
The second idea that I am really keen on is that Allan Rock has been spending a lot of time picking up on Stephen Lewis's idea about a multilateral agency for women. Rock is going to go and there will be a new guy in town and I would like to find out Rock has done, find out what we can do to support the new ambassador to the United Nations and encourage the idea of a multilateral agency for women with the strength, power budget staffing of something like UNICEF. Senator Andreychuk has already talked about conventions. This is a huge issue for me. Canada does not do anything. It needs its ass kicked. I would sort of like us to give a little push wherever that is appropriate.
The standing committee in the House of Commons on women put together an expert panel on accountability, and according to website it was reported just before the election was called to the last minister. Well, I cannot find this report, nor can my staff and it is sort of nowhere, and I would like to know what has happened to it and I would like to know if the new minister is going to do anything about it. I would even like to know its content. I spoke with one of the authors of the report, who was a former deputy minister, and she is as frustrated as everyone else. Therefore maybe we could give a little kick there and see if we can push that along and get some accountability in Canada to that.
I also thought that what was probably said in that report might have some information that could reflect on the study on children. It is possible. I do not know. I have not seen it.
I am glad to hear us talk about matrimonial property rights for Aboriginal women and I would like the minister to show up; or a letter as Senator Carstairs said and let us take that one down another path.
I will raise the issue of gender response of budgets, which has been used in many new countries. It was an idea that came out almost 30 years ago by Marilyn Waring of New Zealand when she was an MP there, and many new countries with new constitutions have tried it. No one on this continent has tried it. I would like to have a look at it. I do not know if it belongs here or somewhere else, but it turns my crank.
Those are the kinds of things I am interested in. Thank you.
The Chairman: Are there any other senators who want to mention any topics that we might explore, or shall we leave it to another time?
Senator Dallaire: If I may, the reason of joining this committee is that of personal work in human rights, research and also application in the field, and the areas ‑‑ some are already in the reporting ‑‑ such as the eradication of child soldiers and demobilization, reintegration, but also the whole concept of the use of children as instruments of war. I am very much interested in human rights and where Canada and the international community all fits together in the sense of responsibility of this nation towards human rights in the world; guiding that or seeing how it is articulated in our nation as one of the instruments of our foreign policy. We hear it all over the place, but who is really bringing that argument forward, how is it being brought forward and its basis of everything from our international development through to foreign policy, defence and so on. It is how it fits in our structure.
The other one which came out a bit in your study, of course, is the charter itself and the processes of amending it and its currency, the idea of a commissioner, which this committee made mention of. Is the commissioner a solution in bringing that forward, or do we in fact need political leadership in human rights in the nation, and moving it on the political sphere to advancement. It is a fundamental law of the nation and also of what this nation does internationally.
Human rights, the empowerment of women and reconciliation internationally and how we can maybe push agencies that have a responsibility of moving those yardsticks to actually have them tell us how they are doing that and are they doing that and how that brings reconciliation and sows peace in the world.
The last one which is of interest to me, and came as a surprise, but maybe because my innocence, I suppose, is the fact of how extensive discrimination exists to visible minorities and, in particular, to the disabled and the mentally disabled in this nation, through processes not only immigration side, but also how the unions handle them, how the workplace handles them, and how equivalencies are done. We want these qualified people to come to the country, but when they arrive here, we do not give them accreditation for the tools they have and sometimes we would be better with tradespeople instead of university grads who must retrain. There is outright discrimination to visible minorities, and in particular disabled and mentally disabled in this country that is far beyond what I would imagine actually exists, so I would like to see us take a crack at those types of thing.
Those are the generic areas of my interest.
Senator Ppin: I have a comment in reply to Senator Dallaire.
Le Comit des affaires sociales, des sciences et de la technologie a fait une tude concernant les maladies mentales et peut‑tre quune de vos rponses se trouvera dans le rapport qui sera publi le 9 mai. Je suis tout fait d'accord que nous nous penchions sur la question des enfants malades mentalement ou physiquement qui on refuse la citoyennet canadienne.
The Chairman: Will the committee study it, for example, in a recommendation on the Immigration Act, or its processes? Will they actually go into specifics, or will they highlight it as a problem?
Senator Ppin: No, we are making a recommendation for children who are mentally challenged, but we are not involved with immigration, but as a committee, perhaps we can address that.
Senator Dallaire: Part of it is more generic in the cultural dimension of this nation in regards to mental health and how we handle that.
Senator Munson: For those of us who are new on the committee, we will have to do our homework on conventions on the rights of the child. We cannot go out West until we read for the first time, or read again, and understand the interim reports. This is very important.
We are all involved in so many different things, and Senator Nancy Ruth has some great ideas here, but before we arrive there, we first have to get past here, but they are all good.
I have a number of ideas. Like Senator Dallaire, I have lived overseas, I have seen human rights abuses in China and approximately 70 other countries, including right here in our back yard in Davis Inlet to recently in Knafel, Saskatchewan, so I have a feel and a touch and a sensitivity towards this.
One small point I wish to make, and it may not be the committee's wish, but I feel that we should be more responsive to issues of the day; perhaps not on every issue that we see, but as a committee, if we see something that is so flagrant in this country or elsewhere, if we could sit down, have a meeting, and come arrive at a consensus of saying in a bipartisan manner that, "We do not like what we saw yesterday." I do not know whether that plays well with the committee, and it may stray from what we are constituted for in terms of a study, but I feel that if we want to put another face on the Senate and its Senators, then we have a role to play.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I agree with Senator Munson. What I have in mind are the things that are happening today, and I know the other issues are very, very important, but we should discuss the issues that are happening now.
I would like the committee to look at abuse of women and children, to bring stricter rules to the offenders. I do not know if that is already in place. As I am a newcomer, I put this in the form of a question, and you may wish to inquire further as to what I would like to see. That was my main concern.
Senator Carstairs: We have to bear in mind what our role is as a committee. The committee cannot respond to anything for which we do not have a reference. There has to be a reference from the Senate of Canada. We can all respond individually on any issue we wish to respond to, we can issue press releases, we can give statements in the chamber, we can do anything we want.
However, until we have a physical piece of paper that comes from the Senate of Canada saying that the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights is authorized to study a particular issue, we cannot comment as a committee.
That is where some of this gets tricky. We can all consider if we want to have a more generic reference that is given to us by the Senate that will give us more leeway to respond to some of these issues, but to do that, we must first go by way of a reference to the Senate and receive the Senate's authority before we are empowered to do that kind of reporting. That is my first comment.
My second comment is that I would like this committee to address a very generic issue once more, not the least of which is which groups of people are not equal in this country because we have now had the Charter for 25 years, as far as women's quality is concerned and other equality guarantees.
It is clear that Aboriginal people fall into that category. If they were truly equal, they would not live in poverty, they would not have the highest suicide rate, they would not have the lowest rates of education, they would not have the huge abuse issues that they are forced to deal with on a daily basis. I have not put my mind to a specific reference at this point, but something that would capture much of what Senator Nancy Ruth has done today in putting forward a number of her ideas.
These really are basic equality rights. We have said in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that Canadians are equal, but all of us here today know that Canadians are not equal. We will have to be very careful about what we want to include, because it could become such a huge, massive study that we would never achieve anything, but I put forth one specific example.
There is an autism rally scheduled for this week, and we know that this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the denial of educational opportunities to children in this country, whether it is because they have fetal alcohol effect, whether it is because they have autism, whether it is because they have attention deficit disorder, the whole gambit.
Those children are not given an equal opportunity within the Canadas education system. I recognize that education is a provincial responsibility. No one recognizes that more than I. I taught for 20 years. However, I also feel that we have a responsibility under our equality provisions to say that there are essential guarantees for Canadians, and they cannot achieve that guarantee if, at the first moment of entering a school system, that guarantee of equality is not recognized.
Senator Dallaire: By not making resources available?
The Chairman: This has been the subject matter of a number of court cases.
Senator Nancy Ruth: This is a question about process. The courts have said the autistic parents do not have the right to force the school system to pay for education and health care. We have two cases where the courts have denied it. There is a third one pending from Ontario.
If the Senate were to do its report, is this just another effort to force the Supreme Court to make another decision? I am asking: How does this work? How do all the pieces fit together in this thing called Canada? No one agrees that the law is available to white men and few others.
Senator Carstairs: We have to understand from the very beginning that we do not direct courts to do anything. We can put a lot of pressure on governments to do something. Essentially, when looking at recent court actions, whether it be on autism or whether it be on corporal punishment of children, which is what led me to propose originally the study on children, children do not have rights in this country. When we promulgated the charter, we promulgated it for everyone except kids. Kids do not have rights.
Senator Nancy Ruth: They have the capacity to act.
Senator Carstairs: Governments. Do not ask the courts. You cannot criticize the courts every time they make a statement that appears to go beyond what governments have authorized. Our responsibility is to government. If we really believe children should be included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we are calling for an amendment that includes children.
Senator Ppin: I think that is very important. We mentioned children with autism, but what about the other children suffering from Asperger's Disorder? Their treatment and visit to their specialist is not paid for. Many of them need that. They have to see someone on a regular basis. If their parents do not have the income, it is very difficult.
The Chairman: Perhaps ultimately, we can look at the legal implications, the political implications and the practical results.
Rather than discuss it here, what we normally do, and that is why we have committees, is we identify a problem. This is a problem of getting resources to children. Then we bring in legal experts to tell us how far the Charter assists us in that problem and what governments have done. Then we look at the federal‑provincial issue: Is it a provincial matter? Is it a federal matter? How is that playing out?
Ultimately, this committee, having heard from all of these sources, will come to a conclusion or make a recommendation as to what should be done. We can be high‑minded and urge the government to do X, Y, or Z; or we can say we want such‑and‑such amended, whether it is an act or something else.
I think we are getting ahead of ourselves in talking about how we solve the problem. We should be identifying the problems.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I just want to know how it all works together, this thing called government.
The Chairman: There is another place where the white smoke comes up. Sometimes I think national policies and laws are made the same way.
We do not quite know how it all falls together as it is always different. There is not one road. Senator Carstairs has been through the political machinery more than I have. She can tell you that there is not one answer. It requires a lot of timing and involves a lot of issues. Sometimes it involves a change in law, sometimes it is political will and sometimes it is a reaction from a community to create change.
That is what this committee does. We seek advice to find out what the issues are. We have dealt with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The report states very simply that you signed and said you would be bound by it, but you have not made yourself bound by it. You are simply using it as a guideline.
In that case it was simple for the group to come to the conclusion that most Canadians believe when the government signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, they intended to be bound by it. Most Canadians think that we are bound by it. It is a revelation to many groups to find out that we are not.
The courts have been struggling with how to introduce the convention. How can they utilize the convention? There is one case where they actually used it. There were a few other cases where they alluded to it and said we are morally bound by it, and we have some responsibility to take it into account.
Those are the discussions we have had over a year. I hope if you read the report, it will be apparent how we struggled with getting the implementation. White smoke is what we have called it. Sometimes it is pious invocation and nothing more.
I think we have probably exhausted what we can do today.
Senator Dallaire: In the process, as we meet, I remember last year there was a whole kerfuffle about people meeting outside of the normal meeting time, which I found rather interesting. There was a sense of cooperation and coordination on one hand, and on the other, there was procedure and so on.
I would very much enjoy the opportunity of chewing the fat on human rights issues with people around this table. Although we might be sitting on this committee dealing with one issue, some of us have other agendas outside of this issue that we would like to confer about and see if we are off in left field.
One way of achieving that is to set aside some time at every meeting. Also, I am totally ignorant to this, but maybe we could arrange a time where we could gather, during a lunch or something. This would not necessarily occur with the clerical and translation staff, but a time where we can see how things are going.
If we are involved in human rights outside of this issue, it would be kind of nice to know that we are gravitating around a central entity discussing this subject.
The Chairman: It is a good suggestion. I think what you are saying is we should find an informal way of getting to know each other, our interests, our expertise and our shortcomings.
Senator Dallaire: Bouncing ideas off of each other.
The Chairman: I think the steering committee should take that suggestion up and follow through with it.
I know that some committees have done that, arranged dinner together, for example. We can do that.
Also, I know that as you work together, you learn a lot about each other. You find out where people's strengths and weaknesses are. When you thought one person knew everything about international matters, you find out they know something about a national issue and they have an expertise.
I sat on the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and deferred to all of the academics on that committee. When it came to youth justice, I was the only provincial court judge, where the action is not the Court of Appeal. They had a hard time not listening to me because I would say, this is how it is done in the field, not how you intended; this is how it is practiced. They backed off immediately because 12 years of experience counts.
I am waiting to find out what all of you really know and what you are interested in and some of your past experiences. It is a good idea.
Senator Dallaire: If that is possible.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I volunteer my apartment. It has lots of wine in it, but no food.
Senator Dallaire: Also, if there is a plan to travel, some of our schedules are already chockablock. The sooner travel might be pondered and we block days off for it, the better.
The Chairman: I am pleased you mentioned that.
I think we start off with an optimistic outlook that we can complete everything by the end of June, but the steering committee will have to meet. I just asked Senator Carstairs to talk to her leadership, and I am going to talk to mine. When can committees travel? That has not been sorted out.
We are down to 24 members now, and there is a resistance to having us travel because we are needed here. On the other hand, there is value in us travelling.
I think the leadership must decide what is going to happen in the next two months and let us know. Our plea is that we be treated equally to other committees. We do not want some committees travelling and others not.
Particularly regarding human rights, we have deferred our work to other committees. This time around, I think we are saying we have proved what we have, and we have a compelling reason to finish our studies.
Senator Munson: We have human rights.
The Chairman: That is right, and they should not be deferred.
We will pursue that and try to nail down the dates as quickly as we can. We may have to come to you and ask you to travel at irregular times. In other words, this committee has travelled or has intended to travel in the summer. We will have to see what the art of the possible is. I do not think we can answer that yet. We will get back to you as quickly as possible.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Do we meet every Monday at 4:00 p.m.?
The Chairman: Yes. However, since we have just been impanelled, we will have to see whether we can get our references and get everything done.
Until you get an actual notice, keep 4:00 p.m. Monday in mind. Until we actually get the process going, there will be a time delay. I cannot tell you exactly when the next meeting is.
Senator Nancy Ruth: It may be that I am always 10 or 15 minutes late. I leave my house at 12:30 p.m., but things get delayed at the Pearson airport.
The Chairman: If Senator Stewart were here, he would attest to that. We have known this problem with our Toronto colleagues. Those of us from Regina and Halifax ‑‑
Senator Carstairs: Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. People from western and eastern Canada get here.
The Chairman: We have one flight; we either take it or we do not. You will do your best to be here on time.
I think we are going to have interesting times ahead. I appreciate we have renewed energy in the group and new ideas. Thank you.
The committee adjourned.