Posted by 18 November 2013 by Senator Grant Mitchell
The Senate debate over the past several weeks was one of the most demanding, emotionally wearing, frustrating and best debates that I have witnessed in my time in the Senate. There have been many excellent debates in that time, serious and important debates. (And that is one of the reasons why we have to televise the proceedings of the Senate Chamber.)
This one was a special debate because the stakes were so high, the issues so complex and all of them were argued extremely well by various Senators:
1. There is the basic issue of everyone's frustration and anger with Senators who would have made inappropriate claims, and even after paying them back had received no apparent additional punishment. I received much input on people's anger about that and certainly share it. Clearly, that side of the issue had to be dealt with.
2. But at the same time, and I received much input on this too, whatever punishment was given these Senators had to be done properly. The question of rule of law and due process of the law loomed large in this debate.
3. And, all of this had to be considered in the human context. The very lives of the three Senators in question—Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin—were literally in our hands. Suspension without pay may well mean almost no chance of earning a livelihood.
No Senators were opposed to punishment. The government Leader in the Senate, the Leader of the Conservative Senators, moved the motion to suspend all three without pay until the next election or prorogation for some other reason. At the time that the Senators had been forced to pay back the amounts inappropriately claimed, the Liberal Leader in the Senate made it very clear that it was not enough that each of the three simply pay back the amounts without there being some form of actual punishment or sanction against them. So, punishment, yes or no, was not the issue.
However, all of the Liberal Senators, except one, and several Conservative Senators throughout the ensuing debate and votes made it clear that while they were in favour of punishing the three, there were serious questions about how that should be done. I was in this group. I was very concerned about a number of issues:
1. The basis for the motion to suspend them without pay or benefits was that in each case an external audit found questions about their claims. It was on the basis of these findings that they were made to reimburse the amount they claimed. However, the suspensions being proposed in the motion constituted a new level of severity of punishment, some would argue on the level of criminal severity. Surely, there would have to be a higher bar for the review and verification of the information than auditors' reports where the accused never had the chance to cross-examine the auditors or question their accusers with the aid of counsel.
2. The Senate is a judicial process. The argument was made by one Liberal Senator with strong legal and constitutional experience that once the Senate rendered a "verdict" therefore, subsequent criminal action might be ruled "double jeopardy" and disallowed by the courts. At least two of the three are currently under RCMP investigation. There is much precedent in other legislative jurisdictions that legislative action like the Senate suspense motion and debate were put on hold whenever criminal investigations were underway. Why take the risk that the Senate proceeding would rule out criminal action later when we could wait for that to finish and then act without that risk and with more information if need be?
3. Many argued that if this were the private sector, there would be no question but that they would be fired. However, in the private sector, the fired employee has recourse to the courts to sue for wrongful dismissal. There is no appeal to what the Senate decides in a case like this. Moreover, at least one of the Senators in question argued that they were told by their leadership that they were doing nothing wrong. It is doubtful that the employee in the private sector would be fired if they had been told by their boss that they were doing nothing wrong.
4. How is it that three Senators who had been accused of three different infractions should all receive the same penalty? While there were some similarities in their cases, the cases are actually substantially different. They involved vastly different sums of money. Two were accused of not living in the provinces they represent while one was not. Two were accused of living in Ottawa and claiming for housing allowance while there but the third was not. One was accused of living in Toronto and not in the province which she represented but did not live in Ottawa.
In any event, the Liberal Leader in the Senate, Senator Cowan, moved an amendment that we refer these questions to the Senate Rules Committee. There is precedent for this kind of referral in other legislatures around the world and in fact in our own Senate.
For me, that was the reasonable, fair and high road solution to a quagmire of problems. It is the very essence and soul of the Senate to protect rights. If we did not do that correctly, judgement of us would not be based upon the behaviour of individual Senators, but on the basis of the action of the Senate itself. In the latter, the stakes were even much higher.
Posted by 8 November 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
After the encounter with the young girl in the street in Kolkata, I was shaken. I did not want to keep going. But the next day I was scheduled to meet face-to-face with a group of trafficked teenagers and so on I went.
When I met with the girls, it was as if I was meeting with young girls anywhere in the world. We all sat down on the floor in a circle and they would ask me questions and I in turn would ask them questions. Their questions were like questions my own daughter has asked me… about clothes, food, Bollywood movies and popular songs. I nearly forgot what these girls had been through, what they had experienced.
The reality of these girls though, is that they have been brutalized by traffickers. In many cases, they have been snatched from their family and village, and forcibly placed in a brothel. At the brothel, their spirits were broken by terrible beatings and brutal rapes, often by the Trafficker himself, and then forcibly having to submit to 12 to 20 rapes a day.
I have for over twenty years worked on issues of trafficking… yet these girls’ experiences shocked me like I was learning about it for the first time. Observing their young faces, all I wanted to say was that I was sorry that I did not do more to protect you… but I did not say it, because I did not want the happy banter between us to disappear.
I think one of the ways to say sorry to these girls and help them to rehabilitate is to make sure that the traffickers are held accountable for their actions, as there are many roadblocks in their way to obtaining justice.
In my next blog, I will speak about the legal obstacles these young women face when they attempt to obtain closure from the court system.
Posted by 23 October 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
During the orientation session, I was given an introduction to the problem of trafficking in India.
I learned that India's population is 1.27 billion. The population of West Bengal, India is 91 million. Kolkata, India has a population of 15 million.
Most of the children trafficked in Kolkata and West Bengal are from within India but there are also some from Nepal. The border between Nepal and India is very porous and therefore easy to transport people within these two countries.
What should the model look like from injustice to justice?
What does the current justice system look like in Kolkata?
In Kolkata, the justice system cannot properly function because there are too many challenges facing the justice system especially around resources.
International Justice Mission (IJM) helps to fix these problems. They identify brothels in Kolkata where girls and women have been trafficked for sexual exploitation. Their investigators work with police and local authorities to rescue the girls and ensure that the traffickers are held to account for breaking Indian anti-trafficking laws. They also provide aftercare for the girls. I was really impressed by their protectiveness of the underage girls and how the focus was entirely on the victim. Her welfare was paramount, and they would work with her no matter how long it took for her to recover. Their work is invaluable in making sure there is hope for those who are sexually trafficked.
In truth though, the public system is broken. There is no doubt that the local authorities and the Indian government are making an effort to stop the trafficking, but this problem cannot solely rest on the shoulders of local or Indian government, or on the work of non-profits like IJM. It is a worldwide problem and therefore all governments need to be involved. That is why I believe I need to be involved as a law maker from Canada. I need to do my share in raising awareness of trafficking of children and being a force in changing Canadian laws so that we can help those abroad.
After the orientation session, we went to the red light district. We were prepared by IJM on issues of security and what to expect when we went to the red light district. I listened carefully to the instructions and thought I was ready for the visit.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.
When we drove through one red light district I was shocked by the number of girls and women I saw. There were women of all ages in all kind of dress.
I locked eyes with a woman who looked my age (but I am sure she was much younger and her job had made her look my age.) We stared into each other's eyes. I am sure my eyes were asking WHY, at her age, she was standing in line to be traded by the pimps. (There were pimps all around us, sitting outside with the girls whose services they were selling.) The woman of my age stared back at me with an angry glare, and I did not understand why she was mad at me.
It seemed like ages that we stared at each other. The look in her eyes made me fearful that there would be an incident, so I turned my gaze and stared in disbelief at the hundreds, if not thousands, of women standing in line waiting for johns.
As we were ending our drive into the district I saw a very young Nepali girl. To me, she looked as if she was twelve. Her eyes conveyed the absolute betrayal she felt, and before I could do anything, she fled. I just saw her for a fleeting second.
Instead of driving, we walked through the second red light district. During the tour, I was in a daze. All I could see was women around me and by this time I just wanted to get out. I felt like I was suffocating. When we returned to the hotel, I returned to my room and just sat in bed staring at the wall. I felt dirty, overwhelmed and dejected.
It occurred to me that the woman of my age was staring at me angrily to demand who was I to judge her.
And in truth, I had been judging her. I felt a deep regret for doing so. I do not walk in her shoes, and I do not face her challenges nor do I have her concerns. I have made peace in my mind's eye with her.
The young Nepali girl is another thing. For just a fleeting second I caught her look of betrayal. That, I have not been able to wipe out of my mind.
She and 2 million other children have been betrayed by us politicians. We could stop the children from being trafficked, and yet we have done nothing. As a group, we need the will to take action.
I will be carrying this girl's image with me and I know it will propel me to create the will and the momentum so that my fellow politicians and I can stop the trafficking of 2 million children.
In my next blog I will cover my experience in the court system and the courts challenges to deal with the issues of trafficking with so few financial resources.
Posted by 18 October 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
A few months ago, I was asked by International Justice Mission Canada to consider working with them on issues of teenage sexual trafficking in Kolkata, India.
International Justice Mission Canada, in partnership with the U.S.-based International Justice Mission (IJM), is a human rights organization that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. More specifically, IJM focuses on forced labour slavery, illegal property seizure, sexual violence, sex trafficking, illegal detention, and citizenship documentation. IJM does great work. Their team of lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to ensure that victims are rescued immediately, that perpetrators are persecuted, that victims have access to support and resources following a rescue, and that the public justice systems (police, courts, and laws) effectively protect the poor.
It seemed like a great idea in June when I said I would accompany IJM to Kolkata. Then, just as I was leaving Vancouver, I was blessed with a granddaughter Almeera. I no longer wanted to go. I was to be one of a group of Parliamentarians that were travelling to Kolkata, surely they would not miss one Senator? However, the rest of the group was unable to make it. It was thanks to my husband and children, who encouraged me to travel to Kolkata, that I observed the fate of these teenage girls. It will be my responsibility to raise awareness about international sexual trafficking in Parliament upon my return.
The trip to Kolkata from Vancouver was very long and backbreaking. But from the minute that I arrived, I knew that I had made the right decision. I know as a public policy person I will learn a lot that I can utilize in my work back in Canada.
I am travelling with two amazing people who work 24/7 to promote the purpose of IJM, Jamie McIntosh and Petra Bosma. Jamie McIntosh is the founder and executive director of IJM Canada. More than a decade ago, Jamie became acutely aware that the global poor lived outside the protection of the law. He launched IJM’s Canadian office, convinced that Canadians could join in the fight against violent oppression. Petra Bosma is IJM Canada’s public affairs manager and coordinates the organization’s communications initiatives. She captures and writes stories that describe the work of IJM Canada. These two individuals have been instrumental in helping me to understand the trafficking situation in Kolkata.
I am going to try and share my experience with my fellow Parliamentarians and with you, so please watch for my upcoming blogs.
This blog is an introduction to my trip; in the next one, I will share with you the orientation by International Justice Mission and my experience in red light districts. My third blog will be on the Court systems and trafficking, and the following one will be on victim recovery and aftercare. Lastly, I will share with you from time to time blogs on trafficking.
I hope that you will follow my blog series and learn more about the fate of these girls.
Posted by 30 September 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
In November 2011, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights began a study on the topic of cyberbullying. The study concluded in December 2012 with the publication of the report “Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age.” As indicated in the report, despite some obvious similarities between traditional bullying and cyberbullying, research increasingly tends to show that there are also some important differences. For most witnesses, ‘’certain inherent features in communication technologies […] create additional complexities in social relationships” (Faye Mishna, April 30th 2012). Unlike face-to-face interaction, there can be few perceptible signs or indications in cyberspace that another person may be suffering or in distress as a result of what has been said in a virtual relationship. Consequently, people may be less sensitive or show less empathy in their interactions online (Ibid.) In general, the witnesses agree that cyberbullying ‘’can cause distress and effects over and above traditional bullying’’ (Ibid.)
First of all, “The biggest difference between being bullied while in the classroom or playground and being cyberbullied is that we can be targets of cyberbullying 24-7, and that makes you feel as if there is no safe place. Whenever you are at school or home, everywhere you go, you can be a target of this. That puts a huge dent in your life, because you are always pretty shaken up by this and kind of scared” (Young witness).
Not that long ago, bullying between young people happened only at school; once students went home, they could feel safer. In the present day, this is not always possible. Information and communication technologies now let bullies intrude into their victim’s lives at any time (Marla Israel, May 7th 2012).
Bill Belsey also added : “Back in the day, if you were bullied physically, verbally, psychologically or socially, at least when you went home you could listen to music, take your dog for a walk and have some kind of peace or sanctuary (December 12th 2011). Most of the witnesses also agreed on one fact, “If someone writes a nasty note on a piece of paper, that can be torn up and put in the garbage. However, once it is out on the Internet, it is not able to be retrieved” (Tina Daniel, May 7th 2012).
Another major difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying is the audience. “The audience for bullying back in the day might have been in the schoolyard, but the audience for cyberbullying can be as large as the Internet itself’ (Bill Belsey). According to Michel Boivin, the ease with which social media make it possible to assemble hundreds and even thousands of people to gang up on victims is another of the elements that distinguish cyberbullying from traditional bullying” (May 14th 2012).
The third difference is the false impression that you can say anything. A young witness who appeared before the committee confessed that “It is much easier to insult someone over texts or Facebook, because you do not see that look of hurt and betrayal on their face”. As Faye Mishna explains, “The distance may also explain a phenomenon that several witnesses noted: some people who behave respectfully in person say less respectful things and act more maliciously when they are online.” For psychologist, that behaviour called ‘disinhibition’ can be explained by the fact that you do not see the face of the person that you are hurting.
Another major difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying is the ability to make comments anonymously. “On the internet, it can feel like a faceless crowd, hidden behind personal anonymity; […] You can feel like no one can discover what while you’re under the cover of an avatar online” (Young witness who appeared before the Committee). According to most of the young people who spoke before the Committee, many people who bully online would not have the courage to do so if they had to reveal their identity.
The last difference points out the fact that repetition has a different effect in the virtual world. With modern information and communication technologies, even though the online aggressor may take no further action, his or her original harmful act will be repeated automatically whenever someone accesses the content in question or decides to share it with someone else. Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying may involve just one specific act, but its harmful effects may be perpetuated as the pain is repeated for the victim whenever another person views it or comments on it.
This blog helped us understand the main differences between traditional bullying and cyberbullying. However, why does a young person cyberbully? This will be the topic of an upcoming blog.
Posted by 16 September 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Two third of malaria cases in South-East Asia occur in India. According to the World Health Organization, in 2011, 2.15 million parasitologically confirmed malaria cases were reported, with 3 countries accounting for 95% of confirmed cases: India (61%), Myanmar (22%) and Indonesia (12%). Both cases and deaths are substantially underreported but these proportions are indicative of the geographical distribution of malaria in the Region.
The substantial underreporting could prove to be an enormous problem when it comes to India’s progress in eradicating malaria. One study published in the Lancet, a British medical journal, estimates that over 205,000 deaths occur in India due to malaria. The WHO estimates India has around 15,000 malaria related deaths. This enormous discrepancy is a result of substantial underreporting and a large rural population who do not have access to medical treatment or diagnoses. Thus, many deaths occur at home, far out of reach from any malaria reporting facility.
According to the WHO, India is on route to lower its malaria cases by over 50%, moving it toward the “pre-elimination phase” by 2015. However, the underreporting could have drastic effects on this estimate as well as the global urgency with which we treat this problem. Increased reporting of malaria deaths could drastically change the strategies that are used to prevent malaria outbreaks in rural areas.
Posted by 13 September 2013 by Senator Grant Mitchell
Recent calls to abolish the Senate are primarily a reaction to the spending issues of four senators (out of a Senate of 105 seats with 100 or so actually filled right now).
Surely, we would want to base a decision of that magnitude on something more than the behaviour of four members. At the very least, prudent decision-making would demand some kind of structured assessment of what the role of the Senate actually is and of how well it has performed that role, or not. Canadians are owed some baseline of information, historical consideration, and other analysis to help them assess this decision; particularly if there were to be a referendum on it.
Maybe it’s the Senate's mantra of "sober second thought" that brings me to this conclusion, but this step seems to have been forgotten in the fury of the reaction. We all know that making decisions in the heat of the moment can be problematic — "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" comes to mind. Would we really want to make this decision based on the past months of supercharged headlines in this hyper-ideological, hyper-partisan, anti-government context?
First Question: Why do we have a Senate in the first place?
We have a Senate because smaller provinces, Quebec, and the Francophone minority were not going to join Confederation without reassurances that their interests would be protected. We would not have Canada today but for the creation of the Senate.
Second Question: What does it do?
The Senate essentially does two things:
1. It reviews all legislation and every budget. Every bill has to be passed by both the Senate and the House of Commons.
In each House, bills travel the same course, through three readings and the committee review stage. The Senate can assess legislation in its less partisan environment and often takes more time than the House of Commons to do so. Over the years, the Senate has made many amendments to government legislation and a huge number have been accepted by appreciative governments. Being that the Senate is unelected, it has only outright defeated government legislation six times since 1945.
2. The Senate undertakes, through its committees (there are 17 standing committees), special studies ranging from mental health; to cyber-bullying; to hydrocarbon transportation safety; to cross-border shopping; to sexual harassment in the RCMP.
Once again, the Senate conducts its studies in a less partisan environment. It undertakes studies of important issues and problems that might be neglected by the House because they do not have political (electoral) currency, or because partisan divides prevent agreement on doing a study. Anyone who has ever appeared as a witness before both House of Commons and Senate committees will tell you that the experience in the latter is far more productive.
Because senators hold their seats for an average of 11 years, compared to 6 for MPs, they can develop an issue over a longer period, and some issues require that. You don't fix a cultural problem in the RCMP, for example, in 2 years. Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan went on for over ten years. It was a Senate Defence Committee report that provided the impetus for the military to get badly needed tanks to help them fight that war.
The argument to abolish the Senate is rooted in the idea that it has no legitimacy because it is unelected. Of course it can be said that, in the current political context, even elected political institutions have almost no credibility either, particularly after thirty years of right-wing, anti-government rhetoric.
At the very least, if the Senate's work has been credible and, if it has had a positive impact on the course this country has forged, then that would lend the Senate some measure of credibility. Of course, Canadians cannot assess this because this analysis has not been done in any kind of comprehensive way that has been communicated to them.
Posted by 11 September 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Malaria is an entirely treatable and mostly preventable disease. Less than a century ago it was prevalent across the world, but in high-income countries prevention, monitoring and treatment brought the disease under control and eventually eradicated it. In 1951 the United States hit a milestone by having three years without a single malaria case.
Malaria is a potentially fatal blood disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted to human and animal hosts by the Anopheles mosquito. The human parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, is dangerous not only because it digests the red blood cell's hemoglobin, but also because it changes the adhesive properties of the cell it inhabits. This change in turn causes the cell to stick to the walls of blood vessels. It becomes especially dangerous when the infected blood cells stick to the capillaries in the brain, obstructing blood flow, a condition called cerebral malaria. There are four major strains of malaria, however, Plasmodium vivax is most wide spread across Asia, particularly India; and Plasmodium falciparum is found in mostly tropical regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, and is the most dangerous of the four in terms of both its lethality and morbidity.
Currently, over 3.3 Billion people are at risk of contracting malaria because of where they are geographically situated. However, according to the World Health Organization, countries in sub-Saharan Africa and India are of significant concern. These countries are characterized by high levels of malaria transmission and widespread reports of insecticide resistance.
So why has the world not eradicated it already? There are a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which is funding. According to the U.N. the world has contributed only half of what it needs to in order to bring malaria under control. In the last few years, current funding has saved an estimated 1.1 million people, but it is not enough. More than 200 million people suffered from the disease in 2010, and about 655,000 died, the vast majority of them children under age 5.
With more funding for research and development of new insecticide and for distribution of preventative tools, the world has the capacity to eradicate this horrific disease from our psyche. The question is, do we have the will to do so?
Posted by 11 September 2013 by Senator Grant Mitchell
Legalizing marijuana is not going to increase its use and Liberals are certainly not arguing against doing what it takes to reduce drug use. The problem with the current policy is that it has not reduced the use of marijuana, nor has it kept it away from our children. Current policies have only driven it underground, fuelled gang violence, given many young people criminal records and cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars.
Once authorities got serious about reducing tobacco use, they were able to regulate, educate, and tax it. These policies dropped tobacco use from around 55% of the population to under 20%. There is a much greater chance of reducing marijuana use, protecting our children and reducing gang violence if we legalize and control the substance. Moreover, we can gain tax money while doing so. It’s a question of being smart about policy and not just acting tough - which is nothing more than political posturing.
Posted by 8 September 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Over the past several years, hundreds of Kenyan girls have gone to the police in the town of Meru to report that they had been raped. The officers responded with disbelief. They yelled at the girls, blamed and humiliated the victims, and refused to take action.
The girls, determined to stand up for their rights, took an extraordinary step forward. They went to the children’s charity, Ripples International, saying that they were raped by their fathers, uncles, police officers and neighbours. Ripples International with the help of Toronto-based human rights organization, The Equality Effect, took the case on behalf of 240 girls to the High Court of Kenya to force the police to investigate and prosecute the crimes.
In May 2013, the girls won a striking victory. In a landmark decision, the court ordered the police to enforce the rape laws and take action against the perpetrators. The court said that by failing to act on the rape cases, the police had created a “climate of impunity” for sexual violence against girls. As a result, perpetrators know that they can commit crimes against innocent children without any consequences – which allow the crimes to continue. Following the ruling, police in Kenya who fail to enforce the law in cases of rape will now face arrest, prison sentences or fines for contempt of court.
A lawyer for the girls, Fiona Sampson said “The court’s ruling recognizes that the failure to provide girls with access to justice is a violation of their human rights and cannot be tolerated.” As a mother and grandmother, the protection of children’s rights is of crucial importance to me. The court’s decision is a victory for girls in Kenya, across Africa and around the world.
Posted by 3 September 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
I recently watched a TED Talk by Jackson Katz called “Violence Against Women – It’s a Men’s Issue.” Domestic violence and sexual abuse are often called “women’s issues.” In his talk, Jackson Katz, stresses the importance of changing the way we think in order to realize that violence against women is very much a men’s issue. As a result, men play a key role in the solution to violence against women.
“Calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem,“ argues Katz. “It gives a lot of men an excuse not to pay attention.” Unfortunately, placing the responsibility on the minority and forgetting about the role of the dominant group is not uncommon. When we say ‘gender’ we think of women, when we say ‘sexual orientation’ we think of gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals, and when we say ‘race’ we think of people of colour. Katz questions “Why are men, heterosexuals, and Caucasians - the dominant groups in society - exempt from these discussions?”
Violence against women is not solely a women’s issue. Katz recognizes that violence against women can have profound effects on other men and boys as well as society as a whole. Katz explains, “The same system that produces men who abuse women, produces men who abuse other men.” It is clear that this is an issue that both men and women must be engaged in.
Katz is a pioneer of the “bystander approach” to gender violence prevention. With the bystander approach, instead of seeing men as perpetrators and women as victims, or vice versa, the focus is on the bystanders. Essentially, the goal is to have anyone who is not a direct victim or a perpetrator of violence against women to stand up against it. Silence is seen as a form of consent.
When it comes to male culture, Katz stresses that the goal is to get men who are not abusive to challenge men who are. He states, “We need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff. And standing with women, not against them and pretending that this is somehow a battle between the sexes and other kinds of nonsense. We live in the world together.”
One excellent example of men speaking out and being leaders in the fight against gender based violence is the White Ribbon Campaign. The campaign is dedicated to the 14 women targeted and killed in the 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. Today, the White Ribbon Campaign has spread to over 60 countries where men wear white ribbons as a pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women.
I have always been an advocate for including men and boys in ensuring women’s rights. The involvement of men is crucial to ending violence against women, yet it is not an easy task. However, adopting Katz’s bystander approach and making ALL voices heard – including those of men – in the fight to end violence against women is a critical place to start. We all must speak out to end violence against women.
Posted by 27 August 2013 by Senator Grant Mitchell
The Senate has taken a tremendous blow to its reputation and credibility this past session, with the residence and expense controversy that has, at the same time, engulfed the Prime Minister's Office.
In some senses, everyone loses from this controversy. Harm to the Senate's stature washes over and diminishes all of our Parliamentary institutions. Government can and does play many positive roles in our lives. After all, the private sector did not build this nation on its own. If Parliament is damaged then government is too, and it loses the credibility it needs to be able to lead us all to do things that need doing, but that we may not particularly want to do.
So, restoring the Senate's stature is important for the Senate, but also has implications beyond the Senate. This raises the question of how to do it.
The Senate has already taken two constructive steps in reaction to these events, including calling in the Auditor General and establishing an internal audit committee. These steps will accomplish two things:
1. The announcement sends a message of responsible action by, and better management of, the Senate. It might also incline people towards a better impression of the Senate; and
2. This might also reduce the likelihood and frequency of infractions of the rules.
However, these steps are insufficient in two ways:
1. They are reactive and do not constitute an on-going proactive, positive message. If Canadians have not already forgotten them (if they even know we took these steps), they soon will. The announcement of the Auditor General and the audit committee constitutes only a single-time, single-shot message of responsible action. This message would need to be sent every day, day after day, if it were to penetrate the consciousness of Canadians.
2. No amount of rules supervision will stop all infractions, and anyone who is doing that on purpose will certainly work pretty hard to hide the truth from even the auditors. If someone can break a rule as obvious as "where do you live," or simply claims expenses for being somewhere when they have been somewhere else, or perhaps someone simply made a mistake; there is no guarantee that there will not be future infractions which would be very embarrassing to the Senate as a whole. The Senate needs credibility and resilience, so that Canadians can look beyond any setbacks and have a sustained trust and understanding of the Senate's worth.
So, we need to do more and do it proactively. We need to send continuous, compelling evidence of credible and responsible Senate work on behalf of Canadians, on issues that matter to them.
The really good news is that the Senate actually has a very compelling and persuasive story to tell:
1. Senators do a whole lot of really good work that most Canadians know nothing about.
2. The Senate also generally conducts itself with dignity, depth and substance, both in committees and in the Senate Chamber. These things sometimes (maybe often) seem to be lost in the House of Commons.
The trick is getting that message out. There are any number of ways to do that. In addition to our televised committee proceedings, one of the most effective would be televising or podcasting the proceedings of the Senate Chamber. The advantages of this would include:
1. It would give Canadians a chance to see elevated and tempered debate in the Senate as many as 120 days per year.
2. This access would be leveraged further by television and radio which would use clips, and even print media outlets, which would have better, or at least more convenient and interesting access. The message would get out further.
3. It would fulfill Canadians' democratic right of access to their Parliamentary institutions. It would be absolutely unimaginable that Senators would ever close the physical doors to the Senate Galleries and ban the public. Digital communications are today's door, and without podcasting we are essentially shutting the 21st century door to the Senate.
And how can 105 people say legitimately to 34 million Canadians that they do not have the right to access that digital door? Would we ever say that they cannot have Hansard? Are we actually saying that it is OK to have certain kinds of access, but only if they are the kinds that hardly anyone ever uses?
4. It is not expensive.
There are other measures we need to take including a more rigorous and professional communications strategy. But podcasting should be a priority.
Posted by 19 August 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
The federal government announced recently that they would be conducting more stringent and warrantless inspections of workplaces in order to crack down on human rights abuses and illegal practices. According to the Globe and Mail, they will have the power to “examine anything on the premises,” question employers and staff, request documents, use photocopiers to copy records, and take photographs or make video and audio recordings. Inspections are prompted if a government officer or the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development suspect an employer is not complying with the rules, if the employer has previously broken the rules, or if the business was chosen as a part of a random audit.
This news comes after years of scathing criticism of the human rights abuses within the Temporary Foreign Worker program. According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, when the Alberta provincial government proactively conducted workplace inspections, inspectors found payroll violations in more than 50% of the targeted sites (peaking in January 2010 at 74%). Not only payroll violations, but testimonies from activists and migrant workers hint at other workplace violations that temporary foreign workers face, including inadequate safety training and equipment, incomplete education about their rights and workplace standards, and illegal work placement fees.
Wayne Hanley, the National President of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, commented that, “outside the union, TFWs are treated by thousands of employers like disposable commodities, with no respect for their safety or other workplace rights. The latest stats from Alberta back that up.”
The new federal warrantless inspections are a long overdue step towards the type of proactive inspections modeled by the Albertan government. As abuses within the program are reported by the temporary foreign workers themselves to the government, this means that businesses that threaten their workers with deportation and that withhold information about their rights continue to operate with impunity. By holding employers accountable for their actions, some of the more widespread abuses within the system will be addressed. Hopefully this is the only the first step in a series of many towards treating temporary foreign workers like how they are… individuals deserving of respect.
Posted by 15 August 2013 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Alberta recently announced on June 20, 2013, that temporary foreign workers who have been employed within Canada for a minimum of two years are eligible to self-nominate themselves for the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program. This change extends to high-skilled and low-skilled workers; however, only employees within the food and beverage processing, hotel and lodging (specifically food and beverage servers, room attendants, and front desk agent/clerks), manufacturing, trucking, and food services industries are eligible for the program.
This action brings Alberta to the forefront in extending citizenship to temporary foreign workers, as federally, only high-skilled workers and live-in caretakers qualify for Canadian citizenship. Outside of Alberta, low-skilled temporary foreign workers are unable to obtain permanent residency. They face high restrictions with receive little stability: at the end of every work cycle they must return back to their home country without a guarantee of future employment should they wish to return the next year. They are second-class individuals who work our fields yet have neither human rights protections nor the ability to stay in Canada permanently.
This bill is a positive first step towards recognizing the hard work and tenacity of low-skilled migrant workers within Canada. It also takes strides to address some of Alberta’s chronic labour shortages. There are still many ways in which human rights protections for temporary foreign workers is lacking: for example, the two year wait can easily be used as a threat by employers to stop their employees from speaking out about their workplace conditions. Furthermore, this change excludes agricultural workers and other low-skilled workers who are not within the listed eligible industries. However, this is a positive move by Alberta to recognize the contributions that temporary foreign workers who invest their time, labour, and money make to their country.
Congratulations to Alberta on this change, and here’s to hoping that we see other provinces follow Alberta’s lead.