Monday, November 17, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed with prayers at this time.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Land claims implementation: representative public service plan
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I rise to inform the members about the joint planning process that has been initiated to fulfill our employment equity obligations under chapter 22 of the land claims final agreements.
This is fully consistent with our government's policy of finding better ways to conduct public business and reflects a clear commitment from the throne speech to set directions toward a more representative public service.
The Public Service Commission, together with human resources people from other departments and representatives of First Nations that have signed final agreements, have formed a joint planning group to identify initiatives to increase opportunities for public service employment for Yukon First Nations people.
Chapter 22 requires the Government of Yukon to develop and implement a plan to achieve a territorial public service that is representative of the aboriginal, non-aboriginal and gender makeup of the Yukon, along with a representative public service in each First Nation traditional territory.
The joint planning process has used a consensus approach to identify the employment issues of Yukon First Nations people. This process has led to increased understanding and appreciation of the structures, responsibilities and needs of both the Yukon and First Nation governments.
Hansard, November 12, 1997, issue, page 1408, first column, eighth line from the bottom: "$4,000" should read "$400."
Success of the plan will be measured in numbers, as well as by changes in the workplace that result from implementing the initiatives. Implementation of these initiatives will involve joint planning, cost sharing, shared delivery mechanisms and training of the Yukon First Nations labour force for Yukon and First Nation government employment.
Planned workplace exchanges will further increase understanding between governments, and will provide opportunities for employees to enhance their job skills and work experience.
A draft corporate plan is being circulated for informal consultation within Yukon government departments and First Nation governments that participated in this planning process. M
eetings are underway or being scheduled with the Teslin Tlingit Council, Champagne-Aishihik, Nacho Nyak Dun and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nations.
The joint planning sessions are occurring in the First Nations' traditional territories to develop initiatives that address the specific public service employment issues for each First Nation.
When the corporate and traditional territory plans are completed for these first four First Nations, they will be brought forward for Cabinet consideration.
The continuing relevance of the representative public service plan will be ensured by an ongoing monitoring process that will report progress, update the plan as required and add plans for new First Nations as they sign final agreements.
Mr. Phillips: I would like to thank the minister for the statement today.
I would agree, as well, that the Yukon government should work toward the employment of more First Nation representatives in our public service, but I think that this particular program should proceed with some caution. I think it's interesting to note that there were attempts made under previous governments, both NDP and Yukon Party, to increase First Nation representation in government. It is going to become a little more difficult, I would think, Mr. Speaker, because of the advent of new First Nations governments. Many people who are working in the Yukon government, or have been working in the past, have moved on to their respective First Nations, and have taken on new, administrative roles there, using the skills that they have learned with the Yukon government to help their own First Nation.
Although the minister may want to take more people in on a training basis and bring them up to speed on the various initiatives that are going on, some will leave, because their preference will be to work for their own First Nation. That is inevitable now that they are getting those responsibilities.
There have been some attempts to do this in the past with mixed success. The previous NDP government initiated an affirmative action program and some of the individuals who received jobs and promotions did not have the experience and the training to carry out their jobs.
I heard several complaints from existing, qualified government workers who were bypassed for promotions or jobs, as a result of the program. In fact, in some cases, they were required to assist the person who had the job when they had been bypassed for the promotion to the job - yet they had to assist the person and gave that person most of their information and knowledge in order to carry out their job adequately, and they felt that this was unfair. So I caution the minister with that. This created a lot of frustration and dissent among some government workers who had spent their whole lives dedicated to working hard for the Government of the Yukon, and then were bypassed.
I noticed in the ministerial statement that the minister gave us here today that there was no mention of the local unions' involvement - who would be there to ensure that the voices of the existing government workers would be heard. I would hope that although the planning process has happened already, it sounds like, any future planning and any progress on this would take into account the unions who may have a view that they want to express on behalf of the existing workers.
Mr. Speaker, I'd also like the minister to provide us in the House - and I thought he would have done this - with a copy of the draft plan that has been shared with the First Nations. Since he shared it with the First Nations already, I would hope that he could share it with his colleagues in this House, and I was kind of hoping that he would table it today, or that we could have it today, so we could have looked at what the draft plan actually says.
Mr. Speaker, I'd also like to know from the minister what the estimated cost of this training will be in the long run. I think that training is an essential component to this particular program, because the last thing we want to do is to be putting people in positions where they possibly are not qualified and they fail, or they have to call on the assistance of other co-workers who might have been bypassed in the process. So I think that if we're going to put people in positions, they should be there primarily based on the fact that they have the ability to do the job.
Mr. Speaker, the last question I have for the minister is this: will this program result in an increase in the overall numbers of civil servants in the Government of Yukon, or will it be used to just fill existing positions that become vacant? Maybe the minister can answer some of those questions when he replies to the statement.
Ms. Duncan: I just have two comments and questions for the minister with respect to this ministerial statement.
First of all, I'd like to express the pleasure of our side of the House that the government is moving on chapter 22. I am concerned and note that the minister has avoided reference to a time frame, and yet the last section of 22, 22.9(1), says, "A full and complete review of the effectiveness of the provisions of this chapter shall be carried out in the year 2010." Year 2010 is a long way away. However, there must be interim targets that have been set, and I wonder if the minister can indicate what interim targets have been put in place and what time frames have been established.
My second question for the minister with respect to this ministerial statement is, in light of ongoing devolution talks and reassurances by all parties that we are likely to meet the April deadline, how does this initiative fit in with the federal government's aboriginal workforce participation initiative? Have representatives from the federal government, and particularly this initiative, been invited to participate and share the good work that they've been doing?
Hon. Mr. Harding: First of all, while I'm on my feet, I'd like to take just a second to congratulate the Member for Porter Creek South on her being elected to the position of the leader of the Yukon Liberal Party.
I want to thank the members for their comments and their critique.
I will, I guess to begin, respond to the points raised by the Member for Riverdale North, the Yukon Party critic, who urged me to proceed with caution in terms of these initiatives and making good on our chapter 22 commitments to represent the public service. These are difficult issues, Mr. Speaker, and it's going to take some courage on the part of both governments and this Legislature to actually make good on the commitments in the land claims agreements that were passed unanimously in this House. There will be people who will oppose these sort of government-to-government commitments that we've made to correct long-standing societal injustices and imbalances in this territory, but I think we have to be courageous and we have to stand by the signatures that we've put on the UFA with Yukon First Nations, and we're going to have to try and lead and encourage public debate to say that this is the right way to move forward in this territory.
So, while I am proceeding carefully in the sense that we are consulting and we are working through these difficult issues, I do not, for one second, believe that this is not going to be a difficult task, but that is not going to deter us from making good on our commitments to bringing life to the land claims agreements, which hold a lot of promise for this Yukon Territory for the future.
I would also like to say that, with regard to a copy of the plan, it is being worked on on a government-to-government basis. It is not quite ready for release, but when it is and when I can have some concurrence from the other partners to the plan that are working on it, I would be most happy to make it available to members of this Legislature, and the public as well. It is not ready for release as of yet.
With regard to the costs of the training, I think the critic may have been confusing our land claims training initiative with this particular initiative, which speaks to the chapter 22 commitments of the UFA. They're somewhat separate. The money that we budgeted for land claims training as a government, I believe, was in the vicinity of $200,000. That is another program that will complement this program, but this program, as I'm sure the member will remember from his discussions in Cabinet, was a commitment in the UFA. We don't foresee that, at this point, you could assign a specific cost to it. It's not anticipated that the cost would be insurmountable at all, Mr. Speaker.
In responding to the member's question about the overall numbers of civil servants, I don't anticipate, at this time, that there would need to be an increase in civil servants, but that will have to be worked out with the partners as we go through the planning process. It may be possible to accomplish the representative public service aims and goals through attrition and through long-term planning. We shall see how that goes. I'm certainly not interested in putting more costs to the taxpayer that are not absolutely necessary.
In terms of targets and time lines, again, in response to the Liberal member of the Legislature who raised the questions, when the draft plan comes out, through the partnership, there'll be some more established time lines for delivery.
The member asked about how we fit in with the federal government initiatives and what they are doing in devolution. It has been somewhat of a shell game, as we've moved the devolution process, and First Nation governments, the Yukon government and the feds have all worked to establish positions and to try to deal with the various issues that occur as a result of what we see as devolution on the very near horizon. So, basically what has happened is that the federal government has been involved, to some degree, but we have maintained that it is not good enough for them to set a bunch of criteria for us, pending devolution, then having us take over and deal with the commitments that were made and the fallout as a result of those agreements, so we have been steadfast in our resolve to have the Yukon government's voice and feelings expressed very loudly and very clearly in terms of these important discussions. I think we have involved the feds but we don't want to be dictated to by the feds, in terms of our commitments in the UFA.
With that, I would just say that we feel that our commitments that we agreed to in the umbrella final agreement must be lived up to. We're working in consultation with our partners in the planning, and we look forward to making good and breathing life into those land claims agreements.
Abattoir to be established
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: This government pursues policies that are aimed at diversifying the Yukon's economic base and creating stronger communities.
Today I rise to advise members of a development that will support both these goals. As of next fall, an abattoir capable of processing both white and red meats will be up and running at Partridge Creek Farm in central Yukon. The farm plans to process up to 5,000 chickens, 100 turkeys, 30 beef and 60 hogs in its first year of operation.
This means that for the first time since the gold rush era, the Yukon-raised meat products will be sold in stores in the territory. Without an abattoir, farm-gate sales have been the only option available to consumers wanting to buy meat produced here.
The agricultural industry has sought the establishment of an abattoir for a number of years. Government assistance has been proposed in the past, but no viable proposals have resulted.
Last year, this government identified up to $150,000 to assist with the establishment of an abattoir. Since then, the agriculture branch has conducted a very careful and deliberate search for private-sector proponents interested in serving the growing Yukon meat production industry.
Partridge Creek Farm proposal and business plan was chosen by an evaluation team made up of representatives from the farm community and the departments of Economic Development, Community and Transportation Services and Renewable Resources.
Partridge Creek Farm has been in operation for the past 11 years and has a strong management record. It has been a large-scale producer of eggs for five of those years and currently operates the only federally licensed egg-grading station in the Yukon. The company has also developed farm-gate sales and a custom slaughter service that has processed up to 500 chickens and 12 beef and hogs per year. It was the only proposal that indicated a willingness to process both white and red meat.
On the merits of its proposal, the government will allocate $113,000 to the company to be used to assist in establishing the abattoir and purchasing specialized equipment.
This is an excellent opportunity to promote economic diversification in central Yukon, an area that currently produces about 50 percent of the territory's commercial poultry, beef and pork. The Partridge Creek proposal anticipates being able to process poultry economically from both the central Yukon and Whitehorse area. It also expressed a strong commitment to provide service for beef and pork to the entire Yukon once transportation challenges are resolved.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon's widely dispersed population and large distances between communities means that a single abattoir would have difficulty serving all of the agricultural industry, regardless of its location. The Partridge Creek operation will be able to deliver freshly slaughtered and properly cooled meats to Dawson City, Mayo and Pelly Crossing within an hour and a half and to the Whitehorse market in only four and a half hours.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the support of all members for an economic diversification initiative that will increase the self-reliance of the central Yukon communities and contribute to the development of industry in a part of the territory that has a long tradition of agriculture and some of the best soil and climate conditions for producing forage crops.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I wish I could be more enthusiastic about having taxpayers' money involved in this project. I will say right off that I was somewhat surprised that this operation, at the location it's located in, was the one that was chosen. I would think that the location will have a negative impact on their ability to be able to provide a viable operation.
Abattoirs have not proven successful in the north as it is. The one in Alaska is in serious financial difficulty; it has been since it was established. In July of this year the abattoir in Hay River closed down. Even with $20,000 a month in government subsidies, it was unable to provide a viable operation. And, from my understanding, there's a lot more agriculture in the Hay River area in the Northwest Territories than there is in the Yukon.
So maybe the minister, in his reply, can help us with some of these questions.
The minister said that the planned proposal and the business plan was chosen by the evaluation team, so I would like to ask the minister if he would be prepared to share with us a copy of that business plan so that we can judge for ourselves as to the viability of the operation.
The minister goes on in his statement to say that this company is already providing the custom slaughter service by processing chickens and beef and hogs. Then, the next paragraph says that the minister's going to allocate $113,000 to the company to purchase specialized equipment. Well, I hope the minister will be able to stand up on his feet and tell us what that specialized equipment is.
Mr. Speaker, there are some pretty words in here that don't give me much comfort when saying that the company has expressed a strong commitment to provide services for beef and pork for the entire Yukon - once transportation challenges are resolved. Well, being located in the Stewart Crossing area of the Yukon, transportation issues are going to be a very serious challenge. I don't know how - maybe the minister can tell me how - they are going to serve operations in the Watson Lake area, for example. That's many, many miles away. This is not a very central location.
The other statement the minister made that raises some concerns with me, Mr. Speaker, is saying that a single abattoir would have difficulty serving all the agricultural industry, regardless of its location. Is the minister saying, by that, that this government is going to be prepared to provide funding to other abattoir proposals in the Yukon?
I would like to know about inspections, how the environmental and health concerns are going to be met.
If we could get a copy of the business plan, we would certainly appreciate it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cable: This is a project that the Yukon Agricultural Association and the agriculture branch at Renewable Resources have been working on for many years. It is useful to note that the project now explained by the minister is significantly reduced from the previous project. Quite likely this will protect it, in part anyway, from failure. As noted, the failure rates on small abattoirs is fairly high. I suspect the Northwest Territories went too big and that's possibly the reason for the failure there.
There are a number of questions that arise from the statement. There's no mention, I think, of the inspection services. I believe that the original proposal that was put out was for territorial inspection services, which would mean that the meat could not be exported from the Yukon Territory. It would be useful for the minister to confirm this.
There's also the size of the operation. There was a report done for the Department of Economic Development, I believe it was, back on September 27, 1991, that indicated that Yukon's meat consumption amounted to over 4,000 cattle, 12,000 hogs and about half a million chickens. The anticipated initial production from this abattoir, as set out in the ministerial statement, is about one percent of Yukon consumption. It would be useful to hear from the minister whether that's expected to grow.
I think the effort to displace outside sources of meat is to be encouraged, both from the standpoint of leakage from the economy and from the standpoint of building up the agricultural infrastructure. So, w
hat are the long-range plans? Hopefully the minister can indicate this to us in his reply, and indicate whether he anticipates that, at some juncture, there will be significant contribution to diversification and leakage from the economy.
It would also be useful to hear from him whether this abattoir is being set up in part to deal with some of the exotics, such as bison, reindeer and elk for the restaurant trade.
And, as requested by the leader of the official opposition, I would ask that the minister indicate whether he is prepared to table the proposal and the operational plan - the business plan - that the successful proponent put forward.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: In regard to the location question that the Yukon Party had brought up, there were three proposals - one from out of the Yukon, one from Whitehorse and one from just north of Stewart Crossing, Partridge Creek. In looking at whether or not the abattoir would service all of the Yukon, we felt that whether it was in Whitehorse or in the north or the southern part of the Yukon that an abattoir that is set up would not service all of the Yukon. It's just, I guess, impossible with regard to transportation. Although, down south there are abattoirs that are of greater distances than this one in regard to Whitehorse.
So with that, once the transportation challenges are resolved and it's viable, beef and hogs could be transported there in a costly manner, then this could service a lot more of the Yukon than we think. This is a challenge, I guess, for years down the road.
In regard to the evaluation and the departments of Community and Transportation Services, Economic Development and Renewable Resources and the farming community, there are some criteria that they put together in regard to this. The proposal and the business plan that was received, I'm told that the business plan itself is confidential, but in regard to the proposal, I need to find out how confidential this is. If it isn't, then I can provide that information to the members opposite.
We mentioned in the statement that the $113,000 going toward specialized equipment would be things such as coolers and specialized hooks and so on, but as to a complete list, I can provide that to the members opposite at a later date.
There was a question in regard to the inspection services. The inspections that will be taking place will fall under the regulations under the Yukon Agricultural Products Act and under the meat and slaughterhouse regs, and those regulations will have to be followed as part of the agreement, and that is the only way that licences can be offered and kept up to date.
Mr. Speaker, this government had made a commitment through the budget speech that we would be looking at the abattoir, looking at it more seriously, and getting interest from the public out there. The team that was set up to do the evaluation was confident that what they had in front of them would work and would be viable for Yukoners.
We are committed to diversification of our economy and we believe that this project will assist in that goal. We also are committed to rural communities, and that's always been our position, Mr. Speaker. We feel that this is a good project, as it stands right now, and we hope that they have all the success in the future.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Economic picture
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the Minister of Economic Development. The Yukon monthly statistical review for last month is in and, as the minister's aware, the economic picture in the Yukon is pretty bleak. The number of jobs, and people working, has fallen by 700 since last October. Wages are falling, along with gold prices. Construction permits are down almost a million dollars, and the number of flights into Whitehorse, Dawson and Faro are also down, in some cases dramatically.
Can the minister advise this House what measures this government is planning to introduce to put Yukoners to work this winter? Mr. Speaker, I'm talking about this winter, not years in the future.
Can the minister tell this House if there are any plans by this government to help put Yukoners to work?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Perhaps when the member gets up again, he could be more clear about what he's advocating, because to me, what he's asking for is a massive government spending injection into the economy to get people working. He had that latitude when the Faro mine was lost last time to Yukoners in 1993, with the Shakwak and the hosptial funding, which was the result of good fortunes of the U.S. and the federal government in terms of injections into our economy.
We have committed to being a pay-as-we-go government. We are not going to drive the Yukon into debt, Mr. Speaker, to provide massive government relief for jobs. However, what we will do is work very hard, as we have been, in areas such as the mining sector where there are some bright spots. I understand today the trucks from Faro started rolling. Sa Dena Hes is still, as far as I'm aware, in terms of my last discussions with Cominco, looking at opening up. There's the Minto Explorations property that is expected to be in working production next year. We just tabled the oil and gas bill. It's gone through second reading in this House. We've launched a trade investment diversification strategy. The community development fund has been creating jobs in the communities. We've been investing in that fund with direct government expenditures.
So, Mr. Speaker, we're working on commission, policy work in forestry to try and -
Speaker: Would the minister please conclude?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you. So we've been doing a lot of things, Mr. Speaker, but I really don't have time in Question Period to explain them all to the member.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, it is quite obvious that the minister doesn't know what he's talking about. He has no idea what suffering is going on in the general public. He's looking at the economy through rose-coloured glasses.
Mr. Speaker, this government thinks nothing of spending vast sums of money on themselves - increasing the operation cost and maintenance of government - but they're not prepared to do anything to put Yukoners to work.
When we were faced with that situation, we reallocated funds. We didn't put the territory in debt. We balanced the budget. We reallocated funds to create jobs for Yukoners.
Can the minister tell me if they've given any consideration to trying to do something like that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I think the member needs a bit of a history lesson. What he actually did was bring in a massive tax increase, and then he used the money that he took out of Yukoners' pockets to spend on false hopes, job creation projects that didn't deliver anything for Yukoners. That's what the member did.
Mr. Speaker, what this government is doing is trying to be thoughtful, deliberate and responsible about spending very smartly to put Yukoners to work in this territory where we can. We're also doing many other initiatives that I've earlier alluded to, and I don't want to run through them all. There's just not time. However, I want to say that if you compare this period to 1993, given the last time we lost the Faro mine, when that member was in power, we are - although I believe the unemployment rate is too high - I think, taking good initiatives to try and refocus this territory and get people back to work.
The member mentioned, for example, air flights in his preamble. Well, what did the Minister of Tourism just sign but a new Air Transat deal to increase the visitation of people to this territory.
And with regard to the member's comment about spending vast amounts of money on ourselves as a government, that's just purely ridiculous, and I think the supplementary budget, that shows we've been investing heavily in health care and education for Yukoners for services, proves him wrong.
Mr. Ostashek: What the supplementary budget has proved is that the NDP can't manage money, Mr. Speaker. That's what the supplementary budget proved.
Mr. Speaker, Yukoners are generally demoralized with the lack of initiatives by this government in creating work for them, and they don't see anything on the horizon. In fact, they're leaving the Yukon in droves to find jobs in Alberta and other jurisdictions.
I would like the minister to stand on his feet, in his final supplementary, and give me one specific example - one new initiative - that this government plans on implementing this winter to help Yukoners that are unemployed.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member's giving completely mixed messages. On one hand he's saying massive government injections in the economy, spend, spend, spend; then he turns around and says when the government's trying to watch our dollars, taxpayers' dollars, and pay as we go and not raise taxes, that that's not good enough either. He should give a consistent message in this Legislature.
Now, in terms of new initiatives, I just ran through a great big long list for the member. I can do it again; however, the Speaker will rule me out of order. There are tons of new initiatives this government's undertaking. The Cabinet commissions that have been working on furthering policy development in this territory are just one example. The bill the member just supported on oil and gas, that was substantively changed and brought back to life by the NDP government in this territory, Mr. Speaker, is also going to create benefits for Yukoners. I just announced this morning on the radio four projects, two in the Member for Klondike's riding, that are going to put people to work in his riding this winter.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think we're doing lots of things that are going to be of benefit to Yukoners and try and put people back to work, but we're not going to spend, spend, spend and tax, tax, tax like the Yukon Party.
Question re: Carcross-Tagish First Nation contribution agreement
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, we've had our joke for the day, I guess. My question now is to the Minister of Renewable Resources.
On November 8, 1996, the minister entered into a contribution agreement with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation to provide $25,000 for the purpose of increased monitoring of the Carcross caribou hunting ban. Since that time, Mr. Speaker, six concerned residents of Carcross have alleged that some $25,000 was utilized for the purchase of a new pickup truck rather than for hiring two more patrollers to monitor the herd. My colleague, the Member for Riverdale North, raised this issue with the minister in July of this year and received a response dated in September from the minister indicating that the matter was still under investigation.
Can the minister advise this House today: what was the outcome of that investigation?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I have not had any update on this. I was told that they're still looking into the alleged misappropriation of funds. At this time, that's about all I can offer the member.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm concerned and distressed by the minister's answer. Mr. Speaker, this complaint was filed in March of this year. That's six months ago. The minister's not up to date on what has transpired.
Is the minister not concerned with such a serious allegation as a misappropriation of government funds? Perhaps the minister could stand up and tell us if he's concerned about this and when he intends to act on it.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Knowing this government, you should realize that of course we are concerned about it. It's not something that we're going to interfere with when it comes to an investigation. We're leaving it up to that process.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister's answers are just not acceptable - to me or the general public. Nor to the six people from the Carcross-Tagish area that complained and who we were in touch with this morning and are still waiting for a reply from this government. Can the government tell me when this government can expect a reply to the very serious allegations that they laid with his department in March of this year?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Once the investigation is completed, at that point in time we can give an answer back. We're not going to be stepping in and interfering with any investigation that is taking place.
Question re: FAS/FAE
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services. In April of this year, the minister said that a government report on FAS recommended a more coordinated effort to combat FAS. He also promised that the recommendations would be acted upon.
Can the minister explain why this hasn't happened?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as a matter of fact it has happened to a large degree. We are working on a variety of things in that, but I suppose the most salient point is the fact that we recognize that this was an issue that cut across several departments. And to that end, we have developed a coordinated approach between Health and Social Services, Justice, Education and the Women's Directorate. Our deputies are meeting on a regular basis to address issues such as alcohol abuse.
So, that's the first one. We've also identified some areas that we're hoping to work in in the whole area of prevention of FAS/FAE. As well, we've been working in some other areas with the Child Development Centre.
Mrs. Edelman: I hope that the minister can table some of the results from these many committee meetings. Now there have been multi-departmental meetings on a monthly basis just to discuss the issue of FAS. No officials from the Justice department attend. Are there any plans to include representatives from the Justice department in these monthly meetings?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would suggest that I just explained that we are working at the deputies' level on some of these issues and Justice is one of the partners in that. We are basically calling it the fostering healthy communities committee and we have directed our deputies to take a look at how to reduce some of the impediments between departments and how to work at a more concerted approach in this regard.
We have identified four key goals in this whole area of alcohol-related problems.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, that's very interesting because there have been some relatively low-level, I guess, meetings on the subject of FAS, and there is a concern from these meetings that the recommendations that they're proposing or the recommendations that they're presenting are not getting to the decision makers. I wonder if the minister could be a little more clear about that and whether, in fact, these people are meeting on a monthly basis for no particular reason because their message is not getting through to the people who are having these other meetings about alcohol-related issues.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We take into account all of the concerns raised by individuals and, as a matter of fact, we have individuals who bring forward a variety of issues to me. Just recently, I met with the Health and Social Services Council. They discussed this issue in some substantial detail and they brought forward a list of proposals, which I then passed on to our officials to take a look at how these could be implemented as soon as possible.
Question re: Taylor House, proposed use
Ms. Duncan: My question's for the Minister of Government Services. During my fall visits with constituents, I was asked by members of the Kinsmen Club if their volunteer services could be used in the renovation of the Taylor House into a possible youth facility. I wrote the Minister of Government Services with this suggestion on October 6. Late in October, I received a response from the minister, which states that the government is already in the process of discussions with a special interest group for the possible use of this building.
Would the minister indicate today who that special interest group is?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think I can elaborate on that, as I indicated in my letter to the member. The group that had expressed a substantial interest there was the Heritage Resources Board and Geographical Place Names. I've had some discussions with them. We've talked about how the, I suppose, renovations development on the Taylor House could proceed. Those are still ongoing. They've run into some impediments. We've been working back and forth on that.
Ms. Duncan: What I understand the Minister of Government Services to have just said is that they've owned the Taylor House for eight months and they still don't know what they're going to do with it. In April of this year, the minister indicated that they would be doing a preliminary estimate on the building envelope cost and a detailed study to follow as to what the cost would be to renovate the building. Would the minister indicate today what the cost of renovations for Taylor House are anticipated to be and who is paying for those costs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I can tell the member that the estimate that came in on the necessary renovations came in at $180,000. What we are currently doing is we have found much of the code work - the necessary upgrading of plumbing, lights, et cetera - we can do internally with our own Government Services people, and we're proceeding on that basis right now to do the necessary code work. That would be in advance of, I suppose, the more heritage restoration aspect, and we're looking at a variety of programs there, including some federal programs, in terms of heritage restoration, and some other avenues to actually do work on the exterior and, I suppose, maintain the heritage aspect of the property.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to provide this House with the time frame as to when he might anticipate someone - whoever that someone might be - occupying the Taylor House?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I've told the member, we're looking at proceeding on the code work over the course of the winter. We'll be doing this with our own in-house team and we'll be carrying this out over the winter to bring the place up to code.
We're still discussing with the Heritage Resources Board their proposal to come in as a tenant. Of course, one of the things we're still doing is discussing with the city, because the city has indicated an interest - and I've written to Mayor Watson in this regard - in working with us on this. This would be, perhaps, in terms of forgiving some costs like water or garbage - that kind of thing - or whether they want to participate directly, using some of their heritage resources. We have contacted the city. We are searching actively for heritage restoration funds.
I would hope that, if we're successful, by early spring we could have a group in there. We're still continuing our discussions with the Heritage Resources Board.
Question re: Carcross-Tagish First Nation contribution agreement
Mr. Phillips: I want to follow up on a question today from the leader of the official opposition to the Minister of Renewable Resources regarding an alleged misappropriation of $25,000 of Yukon government money to the Carcross-Tagish First Nation. This is a very serious allegation and it should be treated by the department and the minister in a very serious manner. It appears it is not being treated that way.
Mr. Speaker, I wrote my letter in July, raising the issue with the minister. The minister wrote me back at the end of September. It took almost two months for the minister to reply to my letter. The minister informed me in the letter that, on June 6, Dan Cresswell, a caribou monitor employed by the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, gave a report on his work to a regional technician. That was June 6. He said we are now reviewing the report with the First Nation.
It is important that the minister clear the air. It is important that the minister treat this as a priority. I want to know from the minister why, today, five months later, the minister can't tell us whether or not his department has determined that there was a misappropriation of funds.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: As I said earlier, there is an investigation going on. The department is reviewing the report from the First Nation, and it's premature for us to contact the RCMP, and we're still gathering all the financial information that's needed to assess the situation until the time we can come back with an answer.
Mr. Phillips: I want to direct my supplementary to the Minister of Justice, Mr. Speaker.
We've heard today from the Minister of Renewable Resources that five months is not enough time to review an alleged misappropriation of funds by the Yukon government and notify the RCMP.
I would like to ask the Minister of Justice, Mr. Speaker, if she feels that five months is an appropriate time to delay notifying anybody about this, and will the Minister of Justice herself ask her department to investigate this matter and notify the RCMP immediately if they feel there is a misappropriation of funds?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We understand that this is a serious matter, and we are not going to be rushing it because of a lack of information, and at such time as we do gather information, we will have more of a complete answer for the member.
Mr. Phillips: I can't believe this government, Mr. Speaker. You ask a question about tourism, and somebody else jumps up because the Minister of Tourism isn't doing his job. You ask the Minister of Justice a question, another minister jumps up because he's not doing his job.
Mr. Speaker, this is serious. Six residents - members of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and others - have taken it upon themselves to write a letter to the minister alleging that a $25,000 grant to the First Nation was misappropriated by an individual buying a vehicle. That's not a hard thing to investigate.
I want to ask the Minister of Justice if the Minister of Justice will call in the RCMP - because obviously Renewable Resources aren't capable of doing so - and carry out a proper investigation so we can get to the bottom of this allegation, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Obviously the member across the way wants more information, and so does the general public. Like I said, we are still gathering information on this, and once we do get an update, we can bring it back to this House.
Question re: Land, rural residential
Mrs. Edelman: I have a question for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
A complaint that I have heard over and over again is that residential lots in rural Yukon developed by the government are failing to meet the needs of the communities. What steps are your government taking to remedy the situation?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, it's the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Certainly, as I look through the inventory of lots that we have, by community and by type, there does not seem to be a shortage of lots. If the member could be more specific, I will endeavour to answer her question. If not, I will get more information.
Mrs. Edelman: The purpose of the lands branch is to develop and dispose of land. Development of land increases the tax base. In Teslin, Mayo, Faro and Haines Junction, lots have been available for months, in some cases years, yet they've gone unsold. The main complaints have been the cost and the size of the lots. Infrastructure in some of these subdivisions has already begun to deteriorate. What options is your government pursuing to dispose of these lots?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The lots that the member is speaking of will be sold to the public at the cost of the developmental price. And, as I look through here, if there is an inventory we will not accept inventory within the region and we will not be developing any more lots there. Certainly, though, the dollars we get for the land that is developed is at the cost.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, holding on to lots costs the government more and more money over time. In 1984, unsold lots in Porter Creek C were offered at a discounted rate and building restrictions were lifted. Are these possibilities being considered by your department?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I will have to look into that further and get back to the member opposite with a pertinent answer.
Question re: Health and social services costs
Mr. Jenkins: My question today is for the Minister of Health and Social Services. Under the previous NDP government, prior to 1992, health and social services costs were rising alarmingly and it took the Yukon Party government considerable time and effort to bring these constantly rising costs under control. The NDP, in opposition, of which the current minister was a member, were severe critics of the Yukon Party's ability to stabilize these social assistance costs. With the supplementary budget tabled, it is evident that, once again, there is an alarming trend developing in relation to health and social service costs. Can the minister advise the House if he intends to follow the old NDP ways of allowing social assistance costs to escalate way out of control?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I suppose we can all change from week to week. As my colleague has pointed out, last week we were being called upon to spend more. The issue regarding social services I think will become evidently clear in the discussion on the supps. We have a couple of issues that are driving our social services costs up. One is certainly the demographics and population increases. Last year I believe 684 people moved into the territory; approximately 4.3 percent of those can be calculated to go on social assistance at any given time. So therefore the demographics will push it up. As well, we've had some anecdotal evidence that difficulty surrounding EI, or insurance, the need for more hours to qualify, is having an impact on people.
There are federal cutbacks, as well. If the member has any particular interest, we've also taken on some DIA - disabled young adults - whose costs are extremely high. As well, we've had some increases in terms of utility costs for individuals. We're in the process of protecting people, and that's our job, and that's what we intend to do. I suppose the member's rather Darwinian view of society means that he thinks we should throw them out on the street. Is that what he wants?
Mr. Jenkins: It is the government's responsibility to create an environment that creates jobs - that develops jobs - not to create an environment that attracts people here because of the social assistance benefits.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: A $5 million to $6 million increase in health and social services costs clearly shows that the good ship HMCS Yukon is heading directly toward a financial iceberg, and the minister is on the bridge looking to the stern.
Can the minister advise the House if he believes he has firm control over these increased costs, or is this massive ship of ours rudderless?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'm a little at a loss about what the member is using with this Titanic analogy. I believe that John Jacob Astor was standing at the bar of the Titanic, and he said, "I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous."
Just to go on with that, I don't think we're actually attracting people to the territory, as the member alleges. We have people come because they believe that, in the national folklore, this is the place where people can come when times are tough elsewhere in Canada. People come; sometimes they require going on social services.
With regard to many of these programs - for example, health physician costs - those are mandated programs. Is the member actually suggesting that we refuse people medical services? Is that what he's suggesting? I can tell him right now that we have taken some steps in the fee negotiations with our physicians to put some brakes on the rising costs, but I can tell him right now, I - this government - will not deny a person medical care.
Mr. Jenkins: Where you can start is to stop paying the back taxes of delinquent taxpayers here in the Yukon.
What is particularly alarming is the increase in social assistance costs, which have risen over $1 million since last year, which basically means that many Yukoners are out of work and have exhausted their EI benefits.
What is the minister planning to do about these increased social service costs in view of the fact that this government has no job creation strategy?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As some of the economic effects of Faro come through, there will be a positive impact. We have had a tough period of time with Faro down. We know that Faro is a major economic engine in this territory, but we also know that people are being impacted, for example, by changes in EI. It's a very simple equation. As well, we have some cases where we have assumed the responsibility for individuals that are very high costs.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: Government Bills.
Bill No. 24: Second Reading
Clerk: Second Reading, Bill No. 24, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that Bill No. 24, entitled Family Violence Prevention Act, now be read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 24, entitled Family Violence Prevention Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: It is my belief that all of us want to live in a culture of peace. In today's society, we read reports every week about how people are organizing to make their communities safe. The fact remains that not everyone is safe. Women, including women who live with violent men, want the right to live in their homes without the fear of violence. Children deserve to live in a safe, secure home environment. Seniors and parents who may live with their adult children are often victims of family violence.
In the Yukon, family violence is society's hidden crime. It's hidden because of the shame and the guilt that is felt by the abuser and the victim alike. It is mistakenly viewed by many as a private matter. Behaviours of family violence get passed on from one generation to the next. Often today's victim is tomorrow's abuser.
Mr. Speaker, this government wants to end this vicious circle of abuse. One of the reasons this ongoing cycle continues is because victims of family violence feel that the justice system does not move quickly enough to help them. They feel that existing laws are costly, inefficient and, in many circumstances, operate in the interests of the abuser. Laws, no matter how creative, can only complement counselling and treatment programs for victims and their abusers. But Yukoners who are subjected to acts of family violence need to know that there can be steps taken to protect themselves and their children. They need laws that can offer them both immediate and long-term assistance.
Mr. Speaker, the Family Violence Prevention Act is about recognizing the rights and needs of victims of crime and making the justice system work better for them. It gives victims of family violence the ability to make decisions for themselves. It provides them with additional choices in how they choose to live their life.
Who are the victims? What do we mean when we use the term "victims of family violence"? It's women and children and elders who live in fear of someone they love, someone they should be able to trust, someone they should be able to respect.
This act defines victims as a "cohabitant," meaning someone who lives in the same household or an intimate companion who has been subjected to family violence. This would include married couples, common-law relationships. It would include same-sex relationships where families are living together in the same household.
The definition of "family violence" that is used in the act includes "acts that can cause bodily harm or damage to property, threats that cause reasonable fear of bodily harm or damage to property, forced confinement, sexual abuse, or depriving someone of food, clothing, medical attention, shelter, transportation or other necessaries of life." These elements of family violence, Mr. Speaker, are acts that are occurring in our territory on a regular basis.
The proposed Family Violence Prevention Act will provide for three protection orders that are intended not only to safeguard the victim but also to allow the victim to regain control over their own lives. Existing laws, such as the Criminal Code of Canada, are more directed toward the guilt or innocence of an offender and offer little assistance to the victim.
This legislation is designed to focus on victims' rights. It will help to ensure that the justice system does not revictimize them but, instead, responds to their needs at the most crucial of times.
Mr. Speaker, the three orders contained in the proposed Family Violence Prevention Act will provide a systematic way in which women, children and elders who are abused can seek help. This government recognizes that victims of family violence often require emergency assistance if they have been subjected to or threatened with bodily harm or damage to their property.
The emergency intervention order set out in this legislation will allow the victim, or someone acting on behalf of the victim, to have the abuser removed from the home by a peace officer. This will offer immediate protection to the victim, who can then choose between having sole occupancy of the residence, if they feel it is safe to do so, or to go to a shelter or other safe place.
These emergency orders can be readily obtained, even over the telephone, from a justice of the peace, who will be on call 24 hours a day.
The emergency intervention order gives the power to a judge or justice of the peace to direct that the abuser must surrender all firearms in their possession and to prevent them from pursuing any contact with the victim.
Over the period of time that we have been consulting with the community on this bill, we've brought in a number of measures to make our legislation stronger than the bills that have been put in place in other jurisdictions in Canada. The Yukon's Family Violence Prevention Act has an offence section, so that if an abuser fails to obey the emergency intervention order or any other order under this act, they will be charged with an offence and could be fined or incarcerated.
In many circumstances, emergency orders will be the only ones sought by a victim. However, a longer term arrangement can also be obtained by way of a victim's assistance order. In addition to the effect of an emergency intervention order, it can give victims sole occupancy of their home, control over their own finances and personal property, and compensation for monetary losses resulting from the domestic violence.
Lastly, warrants of entry contained in the proposed Family Violence Prevention Act will provide the authority for a peace officer or other individual on reasonable grounds to enter the residence of someone whom they suspect is being abused but have previously been denied access to. The warrant would also allow the individual to remove the victim from the home.
Mr. Speaker, this act is thus about holding offenders accountable for their behaviour. If people are unable to control their behaviour to the extent that they are dangerous to the family members around them, they can be removed from the home.
We will continue to offer programs in Whitehorse and in the communities to help people who have difficulty managing their anger. The Department of Justice budget for the current fiscal year includes increases for the family violence prevention unit to offer more community programs.
The Crime Prevention and Victim Services Trust Act, also brought forward by our government during this session, is an important companion piece of legislation. It creates a trust fund, which is designed to be used for community-based preventive measures and offender management programs. There is increasing interest in developing new programs to deal with addictions, healing, anger management and community safety. These may focus on family relationships or on ways for people to learn to control their behaviour. People must learn to deal with their emotions without hurting others.
Mr. Speaker, everyone deserves to be treated with respect. This means that all of us have a responsibility to behave respectfully to the people around us, no matter what their age, race or sex. We also have a responsibility to uphold these values in our daily lives. This legislation respects victims of family violence and recognizes people's rights to live in their own homes without violence.
I know that this legislation is not the sole answer to dealing with issues of family violence, but it will offer more choices to victims, choices that they can decide whether they are best for their own personal situation, choices that will help to keep them safe should they seek counselling services or legal advice.
Mr. Speaker, we want to help victims to gain control over their own lives. I see in our communities today a strong desire to break the cycle of family violence that would otherwise plague future generations of children and grandchildren.
This bill has already provided an opportunity for many groups and individuals to make recommendations to the government on how to tackle the serious problem of violence in our communities. Passage of the Family Violence Prevention Act will give further opportunities for public discussion and public education on the ways we deal with family violence now and the new provisions contained in this bill to help victims. We intend to publish information pamphlets about the bill and to meet with people in the communities to ensure they understand how it can work.
Over the past few months, there has been a healthy dialogue among First Nations, community agencies, law enforcers, women's groups and government about how to make the Family Violence Prevention Act a useful bill. This discussion will continue after the bill is passed and before it comes into effect.
Violence in family relationships is often as close as our next door neighbours. It's not a problem we can choose to ignore, because the abuse often happens behind closed doors. We need to educate young and old alike - in our schools, social service agencies and the broader community.
It is important to understand that this bill does not in any way diminish existing laws, but adds to the existing legislative regime.
Criminal Code offences remain in effect, and the RCMP will continue to apply their mandatory charging policy.
The Family Violence Prevention Act and the Crime Prevention and Victim Services Trust Act are part of this government's larger focus on working cooperatively to achieve our goals of strong, safe, Yukon communities.
Mr. Speaker, I am aware that there are many decisions that need to be made surrounding the implementation and enforcement of this important legislation. I intend to continue consulting, not only with those persons and groups who work in the family violence field, but also with victims themselves, so that we can be as certain as possible that the proposed Family Violence Prevention Act does what it is designed to do: protect those people who are presently not able to protect themselves.
Mr. Phillips: I support the principles of this act, and I certainly applaud the intent of the bill, but the bill does have a few shortcomings.
I guess the first shortcoming of the bill was sort of echoed in the last few words that the minister just spoke, and that was that the minister said that there were many important changes to be made and more consultations to be done. I guess that's my concern. It is very difficult to change laws in our Legislature or make new laws in our Legislature, it seems. So, I'm wondering why there seems to be a rush or mad panic to get this through at this time, when there're so many people out there, and in fact the people out there who are concerned about this bill the most appear to be the ones who we are trying to protect the most. That's the concern I have.
I applaud the minister's efforts here to do something and do something quickly, and I do support much of the initiative encompassed in the bill, but I think there are a lot of unanswered questions. I almost expected that, when we received several letters from individuals and groups out there who were opposing the bill and from organizations who spoke out in the local media, wrote letters to the editor and such, the minister would have backed off from proceeding right now and would have possibly suggested that this needs a little more thought and that we have got to do this thing right.
I would have hoped that this would have been the approach that the minister would have taken. It appears that the bill is going to be pushed through by the government, and then, after they've got all the laws written, they are going to ask the people for their input when it's going to be, in fact, too late for another year to change this bill.
I have no problem and we in our caucus have no problem in getting this bill into second reading and Committee and having a discussion on it and then, rather than pass the bill, have the minister go back out to these groups and individuals and get suggestions of changes, because I know I would like to meet with some of the groups and individuals and find out what areas they would like to change and improve in the bill.
Mr. Speaker, interestingly enough this is probably the only piece of new legislation we have in front of us in this session. We had quite a full legislative calendar but a lot of it was housekeeping, rehash work, work that was done before - a lot of work that needed to be done. Not that it didn't need to be done, but it wasn't anything new from this government. It was all work that others had worked on. This is really the only new piece of legislation and, interestingly enough, I think it's the only piece of legislation there's any controversy on. Everyone else is sort of accepting many of the other initiatives that were in the works for years.
So, I know the minister's intentions are good. I know the minister wants to bring something in, to act immediately, and I know there are women and children out there who need some protection immediately, but I am also concerned about some of the concerns that are raised by others. And I'm going to go through the bill a little bit and raise some concerns that I've heard and some concerns that I've heard from others as well.
Mr. Speaker, in the first couple of sections in the bill, and in the second section where we talk about regulations, I guess this is one of those bills where I'm a little nervous about asking the bureaucracy to go off after the fact and make up the regulations and have us sort of give them a blank cheque on the regulations. I would have preferred, on a bill of this magnitude and this much power, that there would have been at least a draft set of regulations so the individual groups and organizations and the legislators, the members of this Legislature, would have an opportunity to see how the bill was going to work and see what was going to be encompassed in those regulations. I know the guidelines to the regulations are a bit broad.
Another area where I see the bill has real shortcomings is with respect to the judiciary. And here I go onto this thin ice again, but I'm going to go there. The problem I have with the bill is that it appears, by the way the bill is written, that the Supreme Court Judge or designated justices of the peace are going to be the individuals who can decide whether or not an order is issued. Well, that's where my problem comes in. I haven't been given any confidence in the Supreme Court of the Yukon Territory or the justices of the peace, in the training programs that I've witnessed or seen that they use, that they are in a position to decide what is violent. One only has to go back the last few weeks and months to some of the comments that have been made locally and otherwise about what some consider violent.
I would like to see something in this bill that requires our local judges and JPs to be involved in a training program with respect to violence against women and children before they can actually sit and make the decision about whether or not what is being described to them is violence or not.
I have seen - and so have other Yukoners - cases where it has been described by some that because they didn't use any weapons in the rape, it wasn't violent. I think I and everybody in this House have a problem with that. I think that those kinds of statements need to cease. We're giving someone an awful lot of power here to step in at an earlier stage. Sometimes there won't be a black eye or a broken nose or a broken hand or a foot or a cut when these orders were asked for. Sometimes there'll be the threats of such. Sometimes there will be a history of violence and then threats and more violence. I think these kinds of orders need to be initiated in some of those cases, but the people who are granting such orders need to first of all understand what violence is against women and children.
I don't see anything in this bill that would aid the individuals in the judiciary to understand better what the issues are, what the symptoms are, and that leaves me uncomfortable. If we're going to put some teeth in some legislation that's going to deal with a very serious issue such as this, I think we need to put some money where our mouth is as well as with respect to bringing up to speed the justices of the peace and the Supreme Court Judge on these issues. I would hope that the minister would see that as a serious issue.
I know when recent comments were made in the public about recent violent acts against women from murder to rape to other initiatives, the public was outraged at the point of the bench, and I think we have to do something about that. And we can't.
We shouldn't be telling judges how they make a decision on particular cases, but we could be requiring the judges and the justices of the peace - making available to them - a program of training and upgrading to understand how the issue affects women and children out there. I would hope the minister would consider that in a serious manner.
Mr. Speaker, a couple of other sections of the bill are troublesome as well, and that is with respect to invoking an emergency intervention order on First Nation land. Let me give the minister a couple of examples, and maybe when the minister is responding the minister could possibly tell us how this problem would be solved. If there was, for example, a request for an intervention on a house on First Nation category A land, and the individual who committed the act of violence was removed from the home, and the individual left in the home wasn't a member of that band, and there was a request possibly from the band. Have the First Nations discussed this? Could there be a problem there if the band intervened? What would happen?
What would happen if the individual who was left in the home was not a First Nation person, because then they would have exclusive use of a home on First Nation land, and a community, for one reason or another, may or may not side with the individual who has allegedly committed the violent act, and there may be a strong move to ask the person to leave that home if it carries on for a length of time. What protection would be given to any individual who was seeking security and safety in that kind of a situation?
The other issue I think that has been raised is the issue of the RCMP and their staffing. I attended a community meeting a couple of weeks ago in Riverdale where we talked about a citizens-on-patrol program. One of the issues that came up at the time was, will the RCMP respond to every call? The answer was that they would try, but they are limited in their staffing. There are not members to cover every situation at immediate notice. In fact, I think there was an example given that if there were three or four bar fights going on at the same time at three or four different locations in town and there was a sighting of someone in somebody's neighbourhood, they might have to respond to the immediate bar fights at the time, then they would get over to the neighbourhood as quickly as possible.
So, I know from some of the individuals and groups that are out there, they have raised the issue of, does the RCMP have the manpower to respond? It would be unfair to the victims in these cases to make a move to get an emergency intervention order, and then if the order were violated would the RCMP be able to get there in time to protect the individual if it was a busy night? Because, we're not, in this bill, putting any more money into the RCMP budget, I don't think, for more staff.
So it just gives them more things to do. I know from my experience as the previous Minister of Justice that they are taxed to the limit now with their people who are actually on the road. So that's a concern that I think should be there for the women and children, who may be given a false sense of security that if they make a call there will be an immediate response. I would like the minister to tell us what the response time is expected to be in this case.
Also, in section 4, I believe, there is a provision, 4(e), which I find rather weak-kneed. Provision (e) reads "a provision requiring the respondent to surrender all firearms in their possession to a peace officer for whatever period up to 180 days that the justice decides."
Well, here we go again, Mr. Speaker. We've had some pretty strong speeches from all members of this House with respect to firearms legislation and firearms being used in offences. I can tell the members what my view is. My view is that if an individual uses a firearm in a domestic violence offence - or, for that matter, any offence - that individual, regardless of his race, colour or creed, should never own a firearm again as long as they live. Ditto. Gone.
Send the message out there. Do we mean it? I know the argument will be from some that you're taking away someone's livelihood and possibly aboriginal right, because they want to use their firearm to go out and shoot some caribou or a moose or go hunting. I don't care. What about the rights of the individual that the firearm was used on?
Firearms are supposed to be used for hunting or target shooting - sport - not for threatening people. If we're going to bring laws into place that conform to what we have said in this House, in my view, this law should say that if you used a firearm in the committing of this offence or a violent act, your firearms are confiscated forever - gone, never again. It would only have to happen two or three times, and the message would get out: it didn't matter who you were, if you used a gun to threaten someone's life, you were never going to be able to touch a gun again.
I find the bill rather weak in that area.
The minister did not address any of the concerns that were expressed by the individual groups and organizations that wrote her in the past few weeks and months, so I'm not sure whether or not those concerns were addressed. I guess we'll just have to kind of go through that and ask the minister some questions about the letters.
The minister did talk about the RCMP's directive for mandatory charging in all domestic violence, and that's good. I'm glad that that won't change.
I asked the question of the minister earlier or raised the issue about more resources for the RCMP. Is there going to be a special unit dedicated to this, which will respond to these intervention orders - that, if somebody violates it, there'll be some kind of a system set up where everything else will be dropped and someone will respond?
There were questions asked about who will ensure that the RCMP will get copies of the civil orders. Unless they issue the order themselves, presently they don't get copies of it.
The role of legal aid. Maybe the minister can explain to us what the role of legal aid would be.
And there was another question about who will cover the cost when the order needs to be reheard by a judge if the victim or the offender are in the outlying communities. And there's a lot of concern about the outlying communities expressed by groups and organizations, primarily because the resources are not as handy as they are in the City of Whitehorse.
The other concern I have with the justice of the peace is, although they do this already in some cases, these kinds of things might put some of the JPs in an awkward position because, especially in the small communities, they are usually fairly well-known, and some of these intervention orders will take place based, I suppose, on threats or history of actions. So it might place a JP in a rather awkward position in their community, as in the most cases, justices of the peace are, I would think, responding to an actual charge or a violent act that has actually happened, and this might take place before the act became extremely violent, so it might place them in an awkward position.
The letter from the Kwanlin Dun talks about the spousal assault and mandatory charging in the Yukon working document of 1986. In it, they made some recommendations and they felt the bill didn't cover many of those recommendations. One was a treatment centre that focused on healing, training initiatives requested by the communities and resources. I spoke to the training initiatives earlier with respect to the judiciary and others, I think, that are involved in implementing this bill.
This could put a real strain on some of the resources in the outlying communities. So, I'd like to know from the minister if more money in the budget is going to be allocated to deal with the concerns that I've raised, and if the minister agrees with the issues that I've raised with respect to the training of people who are going to be involved in implementing this particular law, and if the minister agrees with my views on firearms-related issues and believes if someone uses a firearm in committing an offence that we should take an extremely hard line. It won't kill a person to remove their firearm from them if they use it in a threatening manner toward somebody else, but it might kill another person if you don't. I think that it's something that we should be considering.
I'd like to know from the minister, when she talked about further consultations on the act - and I'm not clear what the minister means, because usually you go out with a bill or a piece of legislation and you ask for public input. In this case, it was selected public input by the minister and her officials.
The minister is shaking her head that it wasn't, but there are some who think it was. Some of the very groups the minister is hoping to help suggested initially that the minister didn't consult them. So, the minister produced a discussion paper, which I've read, and now has come forward with the bill.
Like I've said, I applaud the intent of the minister's bill. I support, for the most part, the initiatives that the minister is trying to implement here to protect women and children, but I have a real problem with the fact that the people that the minister claims that this bill is going to benefit the most seem to be the people who are most concerned about the bill. Then, the minister said that what we want to do is pass it first and then once it's into law, we'll ask them what they think. Well, usually when you consult with individuals, governments in the past have tried to consult first, change the bill to accommodate the concerns or the wishes of the general public and then bring it into the House and then pass the bill that has the public's support.
This appears to be a backward approach that the minister is taking here, so I'd be interested to hear if the minister feels that all are on board now, that all groups that wrote letters and had concerns are now happy with the approach the minister's taking. What assurances has the minister given these groups and individuals, Mr. Speaker, that anything in here can be changed down the road? What specifically is the minister looking at possibly changing down the road?
Legislation is almost written in stone when you get it here in front of us, and sometimes it takes a great deal of effort to bring a bill back into the House and change it. I'd like to know from the minister what her future plans are with this bill, because it's a little late to consult after the barn door is closed.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I will look forward to hearing from the minister and other members on this bill. I think that this bill will provide some comfort to women and children who are victims of crime, and there needs to be something done. There's no doubt about it, and the days should be over where, if a man carries out an act of violence against a woman or children in a household, the woman and children in the household have to leave it just to seek security. I think those days are over.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: One of the members just said that's why the minister's acted and, like I said, I applaud that. I think those are good intentions, but there are some problems with the bill. It's not without its problems. It's not without its concerns on how it's going to be administered and whether or not the RCMP can respond when they're supposed to respond, or what will happen with respect to incidents on First Nation land.
Mr. Speaker, I can support this bill in general but I would like to see it strengthened in a couple of areas I mentioned, and I'd like to hear the views of the member and other members on that. I think if we're going to do something positive with respect to violence against women and children, we should send a strong, clear message to those who carry out this violent act that it won't be tolerated.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Everyone in this House has known a victim of domestic violence. It's a sad fact that there has been little or nothing that we could have done to help those families that endured violence at home. By passing the Family Violence Act, we will have done something to ease the suffering of future abused families.
The most vulnerable of all domestic violence victims are, of course, those people who live in rural Yukon. This act does much to increase their list of options for relief. The act also speaks to not only actual violence, but the imminent threat of violence. If a victim truly believes that they are about to suffer abuse, they will have some ability to seek safety under this act. This is a marked improvement to the system now, which will only offer help after the victim has been hit. The circle of violence must be broken before it contaminates another generation. This is good legislation. Many Yukon victims of domestic violence will benefit from the passage of this act.
Generally speaking, again, this is a good act. Of course this act is remarkably similar to the private member's bill the Liberal caucus tabled this spring. We tabled my bill as a starting point for discussion. The Liberal caucus is actually quite pleased that the government took a good idea and ran with it. The only problem we have is how consultation on this act was so haphazard.
Now, the initial consultation I did on our private member's bill, which is so remarkably similar to the one we're discussing today, was actually quite favourable. In a very limited way, because a third party is extremely limited in its resources, we sent out copies of our private member's bill and followed up our correspondence to various women's groups with phone calls and conversations. The groups I spoke with thought the bill was a good alternative, and many groups asked for the review of the Saskatchewan legislation, which our bill was based upon. At no point was there a corresponding start of consultations by the government, so when I heard that the very valid concerns of the executive director of the largest women's shelter in the Yukon was dismissed because she knew about the act since the spring - well, I was a little shocked. And when I found out that quite a large number of the documents had been passed out to various groups in town, but not the domestic violence unit of the RCMP - the group that deals with domestic violence 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year - I was somewhat amazed.
The concern that I always keep in the back of my mind is that the people who are recommending the use of this bill most often were not consulted at all. I heard this concern from Dawson and I've heard that concern substantiated by the working document on spousal assault and mandatory charging in the Yukon, and I quote, "Conclusions drawn in this study about the reporting of spousal violence are as follows:" and this is point number 2, "For a variety of reasons, community service agencies are not highly influential in convincing women to report assault; instead, support and encouragement comes primarily from friends and family members. This suggests the focus of agencies, the media, conferences and community networking should be to assist community members to identify spousal assault among their circle of friends and relatives, and to offer practical forms of support that could create a zone of safety for the victim. Feeling this zone of safety, the victim may feel more secure about reporting, or simply about drawing firmer lines around acceptable spousal behavior."
So plainly, the people that are offering help to victims of domestic violence are their friends and their family. The helping agencies are only called in as a last resort, but these agencies are the only people that the government consulted with.
Now, I respect the opinion of the executive director of the largest women's shelter in the Yukon. I do not dismiss her point of view lightly. She has suggested to the minister on numerous occasions that she hold public forums on this act. Why not?
I mean, if you aren't willing to listen to the advice of the head of the largest women's shelter in the Yukon on the issue of domestic violence, then who will you listen to?
What we have heard from the minister over and over again is that we don't need to consult further. Women's groups are sick of talk; it's time to take action. I have read the letters to the minister from the Kwanlin Dun, Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, Kaushee's Place and the Council of Yukon First Nations, and as well I have spoken to the staff of the shelters in Dawson and Watson Lake. They're saying, "Hold on. Do a good job." The minister has met with these groups on at least two occasions privately, and they're saying, "Wait. Do this well." They're saying over and over again, but the minister is not listening, "Wait, or we won't use the bill." Mr. Speaker, those are powerful words.
The minister says these groups have only implementation issues with the bill, but that is not the case. These groups want to know whether it is legal to take away firearms from an individual, as stated in section 3(e). They want to know why the act can't be proclaimed after adequate funding has been identified and an implementation plan is complete. They want to know why there are warrants of entry in this bill when there was never even a request for this order in Saskatchewan, and it's probably illegal under the Canadian Charter of Rights. Does any of this bill apply on First Nations land? Can you legally force someone to take counselling and therapy, as written in section 7. I don't think so.
These are very valid concerns for this stage of the discussion of the bill. Why have these concerns been minimized by the minister? They are not implementation issues. They are legal issues that seriously impact the acceptance and the validity of this bill in the justice system. At the very least, this House needs to hear from the witnesses who have concerns about this bill.
I would suggest to the minister again, in the interests of good legislation, would the minister call witnesses during Committee of the Whole, as Mr. Penikett did on the Faro Mine Loan Act in May of 1992, and as now Government Leader Piers McDonald did on the Environment Act in January of 1991, and as Mr. Phelps did on the Yukon Family Services Association Rent Act in 1994? Why not?
The minister has to realize how oddly the consultation on this document has been conducted. Groups received their technical consultation paper on a proposed Yukon victims of domestic violence act in the middle of September. On the same day, they read in the paper that the government would be passing this act in the Legislature the very next month. It certainly would make me wonder how important my feedback is to the development of this bill that is supposedly already ready to be passed in the Legislature that very next month. And how can a volunteer group possibly prepare good feedback on a proposed bill in only a month? Groups were given this technical paper in the middle of September and they were expected to have their consultation document back to the government by the middle of October. Most of these volunteer groups only meet once a month. Some meet less often. It takes considerable time to put together a committee, possibly hire a person to do the consultation with the group, and write the document. These groups have many priorities. Are they expected to drop all their other commitments to get this consultation paper ready? Quite frankly, I wonder how truly interested this government was and is in the quality of the feedback they expect from these groups, like the board of the women's shelter.
At the very least, the minister should answer the many concerns of the groups she did her one-way consultation with, and agree to amend this act by agreeing to not pass this bill until an implementation plan is complete and funding has been identified.
The minister says that she will answer all concerns by waiting a year to proclaim this act. Apparently, this act won't be proclaimed until consultation is complete and funding identified, but isn't this backward? It would be much easier to consult and then do the implementation. How can anything raised in the consultation be implemented in the bill? Are we just setting up for amendments in the future? Amendments are very difficult to do. They are expensive and, in this case, if the process is slowed down, probably unnecessary.
Our caucus will be suggesting an amendment to the act: that a plan be developed, funding be committed, and consultation be complete before we pass this bill.
We are all very much aware that the government has a large majority in this House. They can pass any type of legislation they want in the House. I just hope the minister and her Government Leader remember that we, on this side of the House, represent the majority of Yukoners. We deserve to be heard.
The government has to be prepared to foot the bill for this legislation or it isn't worth the paper it's written on. Who is going to pay for training and public education? Who's going to pay for travel and administration and all the other expenses of new legislation? I hope that the minister is not going to be abrogating her financial responsibilities to already-overburdened women's groups and women's shelters across the territory. I really hope that that is not her intention, because that would be quite disappointing.
And what about fixing the present system? How will this act mesh with other legislation? How will custody issues that are dealt with in this act interact with Supreme Court custody issues? Will this act just add an additional step that will cost parents even more money? What is being done to fix the system that we already have? Legal aid is drastically underfunded for civil cases. You do better in the Yukon being a poor crook than a mother who just wants to keep her kids away from their abuser.
There's a lot to be done, and a more comprehensive program for the passage and deliver of this bill has to happen. The consultation on this bill has been poor but, nevertheless, our caucus supports the intent of this bill. Anything that makes the lives of victims of domestic violence just a little bit better has to be a good thing. I hope the minister hears my words. I hope she examines what I know is truly her commitment to doing the right thing.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'd like to rise today in support of Bill No. 24. The greatest tragedy in regard to family violence, in my view, quite frankly, is that it is family violence. Family is meant to be a retreat from the difficulties of the world. It's meant to be a safe haven. It's meant to be a source of encouragement, respect and support without judgment, a relaxed and knowing acceptance and trust in one another, a bond far beyond that of friendship and community.
I think there's one word we often overlook nowadays in talking about families, and that's the word "love". It's the one word that gets so much attention in our lives that we're told by social scientists that we seek this above all else, and which we hope to find in the family situation.
Violence is the antithesis of all that a family represents. It violates the very foundations of a society. It's hard for me to imagine how women and children who have been violated in their own families can ever recover from the broken trust and have a healthy relationship again.
Violence is such a horrific breaking of the sacred trust of a family that I don't think it can ever be adequately recovered. Quite frankly, I have tremendous admiration for those who are able to overcome these difficulties and move on with their lives.
Sometimes when we listen to the news or we watch it on television, we can be thankful that some of the problems revealed don't affect the Yukon. We live in a sheltered corner in the top left area of Canada. We are isolated from much that's wrong with the world: pestilence and famine, tornadoes, hurricanes.
Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, we can't say the same about family violence. Too bad it isn't just an issue in large cities or Third World countries. Too bad we can't say that we're safe from it here, Mr. Speaker. Too bad that we have to deal with a number of horrific examples of family and domestic violence in our own small community to remind us of this horrible societal problem.
Most recently, two of the cases that have seized the imagination and the sense of horror have been the case of Krystal Senyk and Susan Klassen. We know, for example, that Krystal Senyk was murdered, allegedly by the husband of a friend when he discovered that Krystal had helped his abused wife leave an abusive situation. We do not know where that accused is now. He disappeared.
Susan Klassen also became a victim, in this case by her husband. Does that bring it home, Mr. Speaker? Does that put it right in our own backyard? Yes, it does. Family violence is a blight on our society. It's a crime against many generations.
We know that children who see violence, learn violence, and act out violence in their own families when they become adults.
Sometimes it seems that I refer to my experiences, both as a teacher and a principal, in this House and I guess it may sound odd, but in some ways those positions gave me a somewhat privileged view into families. I don't know how many times I have, over my years in educational administration, spoken to women who had come to see me. They were pulling their kids out, they were gathering together their kids' books, they were leaving that day on the bus or leaving that day on the plane, to try to escape an abusive situation.
Sometimes I saw violence directed toward children. Sometimes we saw children who were afraid to go home. Sometimes we saw children absent too often from school. We saw grades drop, bruises appear, and black eyes for no explanation. I can recall, one young girl in grade 5 who confessed to me her tremendous fear because her dad was coming back from a job that he had been away at. When I spoke with her, I learned that this was a fear of yet another cycle of violence beginning in the home.
As I've said, I've seen mothers retrieving children from school and fleeing. The most horrific thing about this was that here were victims who were continuing to be victimized. Here were people forced to leave their homes; women forced to leave their homes. Children were forced to leave their friends, their neighbourhoods, their schools - the special things that make being a child the experience that it should be.
In some cases these children were uprooted from friends that they gained and friends that they had, only to flee - simply, I believe, in some cases - to survive.
I hope that this act will give victims a safe environment without the upheaval of such a move. I believe that this act will place blame where blame belongs, with the violent perpetrator. It will help stop punishing the families of domestic violence and help preserve the safety of the home. It will allow the removal of the offender from the home, and give the victim or victims the choice to remain there, if that is their will.
The other related problems that arise from domestic violence are a loss of financial independence. We know, for example, that women tend to become impoverished in domestic breakup at a much higher rate than men. The loss of control of personal property and personal assets: why should a woman who has contributed to the development of the family home, to the development of many of those assets that go into making up that family home be forced to leave those possessions - be forced to leave what she has contributed just for personal safety?
The victims assistance order of this act will address those issues. This act increases the options available to the victims of family violence.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that this act will not solve the problems of domestic violence. It is not the ultimate solution that we all wish it could be, but it is a start. It begins to protect the victims of violence - those who have suffered and those who must be protected. I have to applaud the efforts of my colleague in this regard, and I urge all members of this House and everyone in our communities to work toward the eradication of all forms of domestic violence.
Mr. Livingston: I am pleased to be able to rise in support of the Family Violence Prevention Act presented by the Minister of Justice and the minister responsible for the Women's Directorate.
Crime and punishment is a pretty topical discussion in our community. It evokes many emotions and is something that people feel pretty passionate about.
I note that this week has been declared as a restorative justice week by many churches across Canada. The theme that they've outlined is "challenging fear, creating hope".
This bill goes some ways toward addressing the fears that victims feel as a result of family violence - the women, and children in many cases. The strong measures that are provided for include emergency intervention, orders to provide for a safe home by immediately removing a spouse or partner who is a threat in a home situation, and further restricting communications, access and the use of firearms.
The primary thrust here is to ensure victim safety.
Another aspect of the bill places the onus of responsibility on the perpetrator for the impact of their actions, including such things as appropriate compensation, the assigning of property, and so on.
There is also an opportunity for review, to ensure that due process is followed and that everyone has an opportunity to present their case. I know that there are some serious penalties for any breach of this order, ensuring that this act has some force.
I was pleased to note, as well, that hearings are able to occur in a somewhat informal and private manner. I think that that respect for personal privacy can go a long way to ensuring that this bill can be part of a solution, rather than stirring up additional problems.
I want to make just a couple of remarks. I know that in her closing remarks the minister will comment on the remarks that all members have made in the House today, but I'd like to respond to some of the things that the members opposite, in particular, have raised.
I was pleased to hear the former Minister of Justice from the Yukon Party agree with the minister bringing in a bill like this because of the necessity of it, and for doing it quickly. Those are something like the words that he used.
I think that there is always additional work that can be done in this kind of an area, and I'm pleased to note the consultation that my minister did on these matters. I would note as well that the member opposite sometimes had difficulty making decisions, and so I'm pleased to be part of a government that does more than simply think about a lot of things. We've heard a lot about that. That's been a recurring theme from the opposition party: "We thought about that." I'm pleased to be part of a government that actually goes out and does something about it, that gets something done.
One of the concerns that was expressed was around the judiciary. In fact, I think the member said, "I've got very little confidence ... nothing to give me any confidence in the Supreme Court of the Yukon." I think it's easy for us to jump to quick fix-it fixes. We jump on the law-and-order bandwagon. When we see kind of a get-tough initiative or the prosecutors in the courts getting tough on a situation, we applaud it. When the problem doesn't go away, we still have our fears. Those fears don't go away in fact.
And when we don't agree with the court decisions, the member opposite calls for an overhaul on the judicial system without asking about the values that we want to retain and acknowledging what we maybe don't know about the whole story in any particular case that comes along.
Concerns as well were expressed about the aplication of this law on First Nations land, and I don't think there should be a great deal of doubt about that. We've heard in responses to these kinds of questions, time and again, that what we pass in this Legislature are laws of general application unless First Nations would choose to draw down their powers in any particular area, and in that case, of course, they are subject to some conditions and must meet certain tests. But certainly, we can take considerable comfort from the law of general application.
It's easy, I think, to call for more police in the streets, as if that was the panacea for all of the ills out there, and we hear about that. But the member also talked about a false sense of security coming, and I would suggest to the member opposite that we can always paint a scenario where we need a policeman on every corner. What we really need to do is, through initiatives like this - this is one more tool - through the many community initiatives, such as Neighbourhood Watch, where essentially the community is given the tools to take back control of their neighbourhoods where they feel the threat.
And this, Mr. Speaker, is one of those tools, and I know that the Minister of Justice certainly will be ensuring that those that carry out the law, the RCMP in this case, will see this act as a priority and will do everything within their power to carry out the letter of the law.
The many procedural questions that the member opposite raised - I know that regulations are being developed and I anticipate that those types of procedural questions will be addressed through that.
As I said at the outset, crime, safety and the judicial system are topics that often give rise to intense emotions and heated debate. Now, it's curious to me, when the statistics tell us that crime rates are on the decrease, that our anxiety in the Yukon and across Canada is on the rise. And I don't want to talk too much about that. I want to focus on the act before us, but I would just note that one can only guess that, despite the social safety net that we've developed in this country and in this territory over the years, maybe in fact we have more people on the margins, we have more people who are fearing that they won't have enough, that they won't be able to provide enough, fearing that they might be rejected - people who are on the margins for a variety of reasons. And that's increasing tensions within our society and maybe increasing the anxiety around how we're going to be treated by our neighbours, because the crime that occurs in our neighbourhoods, that's in fact what's happening.
The emotion of fear I think is central to this debate and to the issue itself. Where this bill works to address the fear of victims, ironically also the perpetrators in many cases are experiencing fear - as I said, the fear of not belonging or of losing one's loved ones or not meeting the test. And, of course, the general public, you and I, we also are experiencing fear - fear for our safety and the safety of those around us. And it's a real fear. It's one that we can't wish away, and it's one that we do need to address.
It's interesting to note in the report of the talking about crime committee, we talked about the previous government doing a lot of talking, and this is the talking about crime committee report. I noted in one section that there were, in fact, tremendous social and psychological costs which we all pay as a result of crime.
It's noted also here that Yukon has one of the highest incarceration rates in all of Canada and, to many Yukoners, "The time has come to do things smarter and to do things better."
I think that this bill is one step, Mr. Speaker, in trying to do things smarter and to do things better. That's how our fears, in fact, are being addressed in a positive and constructive manner by this bill. The implications for the victim, of this bill, are that it addresses the issues of physical safety first and foremost. We've got the emergency orders that can be drawn down almost immediately, but the bill goes beyond that. It also works to attend to the issues of security, over at least a medium term, and to begin to build that sense of hope for tomorrow.
The implications for the offender in this bill, I think, are to ensure that the potential offender is accountable for his or her actions and carries responsibility for them. This bill also, I think, is part of a larger picture. It's part of the larger picture of trying to address some of those fears that are underlying the actions of the offender. I note, for example, programs are already in place and ongoing, such as the living without violence program, offered by the Whitehorse Correctional Centre staff as an in-house program; the individual and group counselling program at victim services - the sex offender risk management program; and a number of other programs that work to try to address some of those fears - often fears of belonging, fears of loss - that the offenders are experiencing. What we want to try to do, of course Mr. Speaker, as the minister has said, is create safer and healthier communities. Part of that is having members of the community who feel a hope for tomorrow and some sense of security.
I think, in the same way, this bill helps to address the fears of the general public, because it is part of a larger effort - that of peace making. This really is working to address the fundamental safety concerns that victims - or potential victims - have, spouses and family members. It goes beyond that to ensuring that there is a bridge to a better tomorrow by providing for compensation, in some cases; by providing, if you like, an area within which a potential victim can move without fear of coming into contact with the offender.
So, this bill, I believe, goes a considerable way toward addressing the significant fears of the victims and it's the important part of the whole array of strategies that will help us together to shape a safer community.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: I rise in support of the intent of the bill on family violence. I have a few areas of concern that I would ask the minister to consider addressing. The major issue is the consultation program that the minister has gone through with the many individuals who are knowledgeable about the issues before us. I don't believe that consultation program has been as thorough or as widespread as it should be for a bill of this nature that is going to play such a very necessary role in the lives of Yukoners.
The other concern I have is that there are many legal questions that one looks at when one goes through this bill. Though this act has been fashioned on the Saskatchewan model, there are quite a number of sections of this act that add on to that Saskatchewan model, and their interpretation can come into question and we're going to be spending a lot of time establishing case law in a number of these areas. I would see it as an area that we can probably reduce our exposure to many, many years before the courts if we dealt with issues that have a background in case law in these areas.
The next major area that concerns me would be the downloading of responsibilities to shelters to interpret and implement sections of this act as to how its going to work because these are the front-line people who come into contact with the individuals, the families that need help, need assistance and they're going to have to be knowledgeable in the many ins and outs and intricacies of this act.
Following through is the necessary funds for implementation and I would really urge the minister to consider such funding coming from general revenues and be voted on in this House rather than seeking it from a number of different pots that have no - well, they're variable pots of funding and they're not always going to be in existence. So, rather than having the constant need and worry to grope for funds, it would seem to be contingent upon the minister to ensure that these funds are in place and in place through a vote of this House.
As to the need for additional policing, one only has to look at the Yukon and the number of RCMP members here. One will find that it's the highest per capita and not just in Canada. If you look at the number of enforcement officers here in the Yukon compared to any other jurisdiction in North America, you will see that we are the highest in North America. There are 131 members here, posted in the Yukon, for a population of some 35,000 individuals.
So in closing, Mr. Speaker, I urge the minister to consult with the knowledgeable groups with respect to this act and bring it back in the spring. I'm sure we can still meet the minister's self-imposed implementation deadline of one year hence and deal with the bill in our spring sitting.
Mr. McRobb: Today I rise in support of Bill No. 24, presented by my colleague from Mount Lorne. Family violence is unfortunately widespread throughout the Yukon and occurs so often that, in some situations, it's been accepted as a way of life. There are many incidences of extreme family violence that have been reported in the media, and in many situations, some of us are aware of people in the community who have suffered as a result. A number of those reported have been instances of spousal assault, which have ended up in tragedy for women in particular. There are many other instances of repeated family violence that have been brought to charges.
Sometimes we hear about those charges through media reports. The majority of incidences of family violence, however, are never reported. In some of these situations, women are often beaten, usually with children as witnesses. For the children, Mr. Speaker, this is an extreme horror and, in some cases, a beginning of a vicious cycle - a learned behaviour, if you will - sometimes passed on and on, generation by generation.
It is the hope of the Family Violence Prevention Act that it will break this vicious cycle by making people and communities aware that abuse such as this will not be tolerated.
I want to talk a little bit about the forms of violence and the effects they have on our communities. There are many other forms in a family situation where the woman or children and, in some instances, men are subjected to emotional or psychological abuse, intimidation, threats, sexual abuse, and isolation from family or friends and the rest of the world. Women in such situations often accept abuse as a way of life. Sometimes nobody seems to care. Sometimes there is no one to intervene and come to the assistance of the abused. Unfortunately, women often have extreme feelings of hopelessness and feel powerless to do anything. They have no place to go. In the Yukon, this would mean moving to another community, and for many this is simply not an option. So, instead, they are forced to live with the abuse rather than move.
In other situations, it means having to leave without the children and, again, that is not an option for them.
These situations of family violence have traumatic effects on children, who sometimes learn to live in fear. This affects all other aspects of their lives, including their outlook on life, their health, education, and how they interact with others.
In cases of sexual abuse, women are often victimized even through the court system and, again, by the community. Sometimes they are threatened and become more isolated and are forced to keep the abuse to themselves.
Another problem is the lateral violence in any community, large or small, which often keeps the abused from reporting or seeking help.
Fortunately, Mr. Speaker, this bill - the Family Violence Prevention Act - can help to resolve these problems and reduce occurrences of abuse in our territory.
The bill sends out a strong message to victims, offenders, children and the community. This bill focuses on the needs of the victim to empower them to change the abusive situation. For instance, women and children are no longer forced to leave the home. Instead, a police officer can be directed to remove the abuser from the home to give the victim exclusive occupation of the home.
This bill will encourage more victims to come forward as protective mechanisms are put in place for their protection. This bill allows justices of the peace - and there are several of them in the outlying communities - to direct a police officer to remove the abuser, provided there is certainty that abuse has occurred or is likely to occur. This bill sends a powerful message to abusers and the community. Abuse is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Women and children have the right to stay in the home and feel safe. This bill recognizes that safety has to be the key concern. The bill also contains a provision for the seizure of firearms when violence has occurred, or if there is a threat of violence.
This bill will require a major shift in attitude throughout the whole Yukon, in particular by men. For that reason, Mr. Speaker, I support this bill and realize that we all need to work together on the prevention of family violence.
This bill is one more step that our government is taking in building stronger and safer communities.
Mr. Cable: As was indicated earlier, our caucus is supportive of the bill in principle, but I should say that we certainly have no geography in its drafting. The session is moving forward rapidly and our caucus is quite prepared to use whatever time is available out of our agreed 25 days in this sitting to hear groups and individuals.
Now, witnesses have been heard before by this House at the insistence of NDP members. It escapes me why we have been reluctant to hear evidence on the concerns that have been expressed by various groups.
The minister knows that there are people out there, stakeholders in the protection of victims of violence sector, who are prepared to come and give us suggestions and advice. I have to say there has been some public consultation, but there hasn't been a lot. This is a fairly important bill.
We don't have a justice committee system in the House. A bill such as this, if it were in the federal Parliament, could be given to the House committee for input and then recommendation made by the committee to the House. So, we are left to follow the public discussion and the various submissions that have been made to the minister. We are not in the position, really, to hear people first hand.
May I suggest to the minister that it is not an imposition on this House to hear the stakeholders for two or three hours or four or five hours - whatever is necessary. We've lots of time in this session to hear them.
The act, to work best, needs the stakeholders on side and that exercise would assist in getting those stakeholders on side.
I ask the minister to reconsider her government's resistance to call witnesses. Nobody in this Legislature runs a transition home. No one in this Legislature practises family law. No one in this Legislature deals with violence as a part of their livelihood. There just might be some advice out there that is worth hearing.
Now, the principles behind the bill are sound. The other alternatives that are available to people under stress or in situations where there is perceived violence that could happen are the peace bond process and civil injunction. I think we've heard that the peace bond process criminalizes actions and may cause antagonisms and some people are just reluctant to use it, for whatever their reasons.
A civil injunction or restraining order process also has its shortcomings. A person under imminent threat, who does not wish to use the peace bond process, at present is left with the civil restraining order process. And under that process, the victim, particularly in outlying areas and particularly at night, has to phone a lawyer, whom the victim may or may not know, and who the victim may or may not know practises the appropriate type of law, and the victim has to brief that lawyer. The lawyer must then, at night, or on weekends possibly, take instructions, contact the trial coordinator, if available, and set up a hearing with a Supreme Court Judge, if available. I'm not sure whether pleadings have to be prepared, as is the case with normal actions, and filed to initiate the action, but even assuming that that problem could be overcome, it's a fairly lengthy process and it's not a particularly useful process where there is imminent danger.
Even if the problem has been or could be resolved - this is the problem of filing pleadings and getting a judge and having a hearing - there are still some delays that may - not necessarily will but may - pose a problem.
This bill, which we support, sets up another remedy that buttresses those other remedies. It is not foolproof. If someone is bound and bent on causing physical hurt to some other person, no amount of law is going to stop that. If someone is prepared to break the law, then we have to deal with the consequences, not the prevention. But this bill can act as a good remedy in some cases. There are people out there who, despite being involved in domestic violence, will, in fact, respect the law. And this bill will add to the victim protection armoury - much the same as the British Columbia government's recent initiative in providing cell phones to potential victims who cannot afford them is an addition to the protection armoury.
Now, we have heard and I have heard, both here and elsewhere, the issue of cost, and it would be useful for the minister, in her reply, to spell out just what kind of training is needed for the JPs. It appears to me that the training for the purposes of the act could usefully be part of most JPs' training.
Now, we're not asking JPs to pass judgment on some fine point on the Constitution. We're asking them to pass judgment on an interpersonal situation that most people can readily comprehend. The JPs now must deal with bail applications by alleged rapists, sometimes in the middle of the night, so they should be able to deal with the type of orders that are contemplated by this act.
Now, the orders under this act will have some dangers. They are initially, of course, ex parte in nature. The act does set up a situation where there can be unjust or improper accusations made by people who approach the JPs, and this of course is possible in the case of peace bonds or civil injunction applications. We can't get away from that.
There are also third-party or other parties' property rights that can be unfairly affected, but when we balance the rights and the downsides, I think we can clearly see that the downside to victims is of a much different and greater order than the downside to other affected parties. The protection from the danger of physical violence is a much greater good than the protection of some property.
As has been mentioned by the Member for Riverdale South, we will be introducing an amendment to delay proclamation until implementation is in place.
We support the bill in principle and will support it, but we certainly do have reservations about the consultation process.
We don't want to wait until the 1998 legislative session, but let me again urge the minister to reconsider her position on calling witnesses before the House. I think we can all benefit from hearing witnesses. We have the time, and our time is not too precious to say, "No, we don't want to hear you. We know you might have something to say, but we're just too busy. We want to get on with this bill." I think we should listen to people that deal with violence in the community.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'm not going to talk too long, particularly on the aspects of the bill. They've been listed many times and very well by members on this side of the Legislature and, to some degree, by members of the opposition.
This bill is a tool. It's an advancement in dealing with the very difficult and very troubling problem of family violence that we have experienced so much of in this territory over the past many, many years. This is not a bill to bring us to utopia. This is a bill that we believe can help Yukoners to further deal with these problems that we all, I believe, feel very strongly have to be addressed.
I must say, though, Mr. Speaker, that in listening to the opposition speak to this very solid and very well-founded and very much needed bill, that I am amazed at some of the comments. The new member of the Legislature from Riverdale South, you would have thought that she had invented the fight against domestic violence because she has tabled a private member's bill in this Legislature. Mr. Speaker, my colleague, the Minister of Justice, has been actively out there, working on this issue, long before she ever became a politician, for the last 20 years in this territory. I think this kind of trying to grab some credit for a good initiative is quite transparently wrong and misplaced surrounding a bill such as this.
I believe that, when I hear the other comments about bringing witnesses, I don't discount the notion totally of bringing witnesses before this Legislature. It's done very rarely, but the Member for Riverside, the Liberal member, implies that the only way we can hear people on a bill or the only way we can have any direct democracy is by bringing witnesses before the Legislature, to hear evidence.
It sounds a lot like the member is speaking in a bit of an interesting light. One wonders if he has got the Legislature confused with a court of law. There are many other avenues for the minister and for the government and for the opposition to speak out and to hear people.
The implication is that the only way you can hear advice on this bill is to have witnesses before the Legislature. It is not the only way. The minister has been consulting with the public, has been meeting with the public, has been talking to the public, and has been listening, and has been reflecting that in the bill.
So to say that the only way we can get our head out of the clouds and hear the people is in this Legislature I think indicates that the Liberal Party is seriously out of touch on this issue.
The people want us out of the Legislature and talking to them in other ways, Mr. Speaker, to hear their views. It's very rare when I hear someone on the street who says to me, "Listen, I've got to tell you something about something that's bugging me about the government. I'd really like an appointment to come before the Legislature and let you know."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: What they say, Mr. Speaker, is they've got a problem with a piece of legislation or something the government's doing and they want to bend my ear on it, or they think there should be a public meeting.
Or they think there should be some survey work done or there should be some form of consultative work undertaken.
So, Mr. Speaker, I don't follow the logic of the members opposite. I'll just say that I am very proud of my colleague, the Minister of Justice. She knows that this bill is a tool. She knows it's not the be-all, end-all. There's lots more work to be done. We don't want to wait until the next session of the Legislature to bring this bill forward. She's going to continue to consult and fine-tune. The Member for Riverdale South said that amendments are expensive. I don't know where the member's getting that information from. If there's a fundamental change to the bill that has to be brought forward in the future, then I'm sure we'll be prepared to do it, but in the meantime surely there are aspects of this bill this session of the Legislature that are going to help people in this territory over the next year.
So I say, let's get on with it, let's pass this bill and let's keep working. Thank you.
Ms. Duncan: I'm pleased today to rise to support the intent of this bill and particularly to add my support to the efforts of my colleagues, namely the Members for Riverdale South and Riverside, in their constructive points during second reading of this bill. I believe that our caucus has done its homework on this matter.
The wrongness of domestic violence has been articulated by many. It's too often and a most unfortunate fact that we are aware of and a misery that many live with every day.
One of the concerns with this particular piece of legislation has been the consultation process. And I noted that "consultation", according to the Oxford dictionary, which I'm sure the Member for Whitehorse West is fond of, is "the action of consulting or taking counsel". The Member for Riverside has urged that we take counsel in inviting witnesses to this Legislature and, unfortunately, the Member for Faro doesn't recall his history particularly well because I remember very, very vividly the witnesses being called in the Environment Act before this Legislature. In that particular situation, the business community was very, very, very concerned with the bill that had been drafted by the NDP government. Over and over, what the Chamber of Mines and the chambers of commerce throughout the territory said in response to that bill was, "Slow down, let's just take our time and do this bill right."
What have they got against amendments is being asked by the Member for Whitehorse West? Well, what they've got against amendment is the fact that there haven't been any amendments seen that have substantially changed that bill, and at that time the government's line over and over and over again was, "Wait till regulations. No problem. We'll just do the regulations." And now the community's being told, "Wait till the implementation plan. No, it's fine. We'll do the implementation plan."
Unfortunately, with the Environment Act, the witnesses that were called, I'm not sure they were particularly well-prepared for the experience that is this Legislature. Fortunately, I think we've come a long way since then. It's not a discredit to those people; it's a situation where they were, in effect, in a cross-examination style of debate and they were literally - what's the word I want to use? It was an unfortunate experience for the individuals involved and it didn't effect change. I don't think there was a true spirit or intent to take counsel in that situation. I'm suggesting that what we should do is do it right, show we have listened, show we have the ability to take counsel in this Legislature so that we are hearing what people say.
Those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it. We know our history. We know where we've made mistakes. Let's do it right and take counsel on this issue and invite witnesses who live with this every day and who know the pitfalls and the very good things in the legislation and invite them for their comment. Yes, they're welcome to give us their comments in the street. Let's have them here as a matter of public record. I believe it's important that we do the true spirit of consultation and take counsel on this particular legislation.
Now, the Member for Riverside and the Member for Riverdale South have both stated that we're prepared to support this legislation and support it through this session. We believe it should pass this session. It should pass appropriately by taking counsel and doing proper consultation on this particular piece of legislation.
I look forward to further debate and to the clause by clause, and I do trust that members are listening, not simply with their ears, with their hearts as well, to the constructive suggestions that are being made. These are not dismissive, lightly thought out ideas that are being presented. They are worthy of paying attention to and I would hope that the minister and her colleagues would give them due and proper consideration.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'll just make my comments brief, Mr. Speaker.
Family violence is common with many families in the Yukon, and many of us are very close to it. At times, we feel that it's almost a way of life in small communities, and many people feel that nothing can be done to address the issues and many times feel helpless toward victims. First Nation people and people in small communities know all too well what violence is within the family, and we need to understand why this is happening, and why people are acting the way they are. Many First Nations are trying to address this in different ways, and have been for many years. They have set up workshops that deal with family violence. They have tried to address the problems within communities. They have focused a lot of their attention on community healing and individual healing and, for many First Nations, this has worked fairly well in that progress has been shown in some of the places, and people are trying to get their lives up and running and in order again.
One of the big ones that has affected Yukoners and is being dealt with today is the mission schools, and to try and address this huge problem and understand people and the way they act is going to take a lot of effort on behalf of communities and First Nations. Even with First Nations going through it, it's not an issue that the First Nations themselves have to resolve. It has to be a community effort, and people must put their attention to this and try to correct the violence that we have out there.
Yukoners have expressed a need for governments, communities and individuals to take responsibility and to work together to eliminate violence and, like I said, some have made attempts to do this. First Nations have held workshops time after time and year after year to try to bring some focus to this issue of alcoholism and family violence and abuse. They need the backing of the community to do this and make this work well.
Now there's ongoing work that some First Nations have done to try and address this. For example, the Northern Tutchone communities have worked in putting together their own treatment centre at Tatl'a Man Lake and not having to send people out to deal with their own problems internally and not to have this camp strictly for First Nations but to address the issues within the community.
One of the big problems, I guess, that we have out there is people seem to hide when it comes to family violence, and we need to have people out there - victims - being able to come forward without feeling that they are going to be disrupting the person's life, but feeling that they're going to be doing something for themselves. We need good education, awareness and training throughout. In order to do this, it requires a major shift in attitude throughout the whole of Yukon and, in particular, with men.
Of course, this will not be successful unless the community as a whole gets involved and provides support. In many communities, we have both First Nation communities and non-native communities that, oftentimes, don't work well together, but I think that there's enough awareness out there that people are getting together and working together more than ever before.
This issue has been out there for a long time - the violence against women and children. It's not only to them, but it's been more and more apparent that men are not speaking out for themselves when it comes to violence. Not many people speak on behalf of men to try and get them some sort of help and treatment in this area.
So it's with all people, it's not just with women and children. It involves all the people in the Yukon.
First Nations have attempted to deal with the problems of violence and, like I said, have hosted many, many workshops that have been open to the general public to deal with the issue, and it's going on and on. When you deal with community healing, or individual healing, it's not a one-shot deal. It's something that has to be followed up on, and has follow-up work, and the type of organization that can deal with the issue once it's out there. Once you bring these issues out, you cannot just drop it and leave it go on its own, because it won't work. People need, just like alcoholism, to be able to go somewhere, talk to someone about this, and continue their healing.
I know that in order to bring awareness to communities and training and education, we'll be going through some difficult times - as abusers - and those that accept abuse as a way of life will resist the legislation and the pending results. I think that we would be going through a period of revenge of the abusers. It just seems to be human nature, when it comes to that.
And those who have been abused need to access the education and healing initiatives that communities and that First Nations have set up. Again, this will not be successful unless everybody involved works together on this.
Most abusers don't think of themselves as abusers. Much education is needed to go along with the healing initiatives and to bring the message forward to them that there is a way that they can deal with the problem. Communities, as a whole, need to get involved in the development and implementation plans: everyone, from First Nations to front-line workers, RCMP, nurses and community leaders, to ensure that what has been put forward is a success.
We also need ongoing consultation with First Nations, women's groups and inter-agencies to keep the message going out there that the general public wants to do something about family violence and that we're serious about it. The public education on this is an important element, especially with the ongoing work in bringing to people more focus in trying to get something done here.
Training of those who are involved in the justice field, care givers and particularly the justices of peace is important. The safety of individuals must be a priority, including the safety of front-line workers when it comes to this because, when they're going through this - and those who have gone through workshops and have seen the feelings come out - it's not often a safe position when you are a front-line worker.
We must form partnerships to develop the community and buy into an ongoing consultation process. It's not just a short-term solution to this at all.
This act is not a solution to the problem, but again it does send a strong message to the victims and to the offenders. This bill is basically an additional tool that could be used and focused on the needs of victims.
To wrap up, I do support this bill and realize that we do need to work together on this and on the prevention of family violence. It is a well-talked-about issue within the smaller communities, but oftentimes the attention is taken away from the bigger centre of Whitehorse where, because of the number of people, we don't see that or hear that as often as it is talked about in the communities. I think one of the big things is that the communities are working toward trying to do something, but a bill like this would be an additional tool that can be used to try to prevent and correct some of the problems that we do have out there and to deal with the issues of the victims moreso than anything else.
There are many types of things that have been tried by the communities, right down to circle sentencing and trying to help victims out, not just the offenders. These are small attempts that communities have been making and I do think that this bill will support the efforts they have been putting forward over a number of years.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I will be fairly brief speaking to Bill No. 24. Most of the comments have been made by members who spoke before me. I do want to say that I and my colleagues support the bill in principle, but I also want to say, as my colleagues before me have said, that I want to urge the minister to seriously consider going to further public consultation before bringing this bill into Committee.
The NDP government prides itself on consultation. The message that we've been getting from the general public and organizations is that the consultation on this bill has not been satisfactory.
The minister herself said, I believe, that she doesn't intend to proclaim this bill for one year, so therefore there is no rush to push this bill through. I know that my caucus, Mr. Speaker, would be quite prepared, even though the spring session is a budgetary session, to give the minister that latitude, and we would support debating this bill in the spring session, so she could still bring the bill in and have it proclaimed on her timetable.
I believe that that would be the appropriate action for the minister to take, and the bill is a bill that will give the front-line people another tool to deal with a very serious issue in our society, but as speakers on both sides of this House before me have said, it's not the be-all and end-all and will not be the end of family violence.
So, I would urge the minister to seriously consider that, to go out to the people and listen to what they have to say, make any necessary changes that she may have to make to the bill, and have the population as a whole satisfied that the consultation has been done on it. They may not all agree with it after that, and I don't expect they will. There will be various levels of support for the bill, but that way, I believe the NDP government could stand up and say, "We have seriously consulted with the Yukon public on this."
Right now, Mr. Speaker, I don't believe they can do that.
The consultation has been very limited and with select people and groups. Now, having said that, Mr. Speaker, and if the minister is not prepared to accept that and feels that she has to push this bill through in this session, we don't have much work left to do in this session. The legislative agenda is fairly light in this session and we have lots of time left. If the minister is not prepared to go back out to public consultation, I ask her to seriously consider the proposal put forward by our Liberal colleagues in this House and call witnesses before the House.
That's not my preferred route. I don't believe that gives us the answers we need. I would prefer to see her go to public consultation and bring the bill back, but if she's not prepared to go to further consultation, I would hope that she could at least, in rebuttal, stand and say that she would be prepared to call witnesses to this House. We have plenty of time. We can take three or four hours to interview witnesses in this House. It's a long time yet till the 15th or 16th of December and, as I said, we don't have a lot of work left to do, outside of the supplementary estimates.
So, Mr. Speaker, I leave that with the minister and, in the interests of all people in the Yukon and in the interests of her listening to recommendations from this side of the House, which her government has in the past said they would do, I hope that she will seriously consider our recommendations and act accordingly. Thank you.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I certainly appreciate the opportunity to stand and speak in support of this act. Mr. Speaker, firstly let me say that this act is long, long, long overdue. Long overdue. This act is just now bringing to light, bringing to instrument, if I can say it in that way, an act that will be able to help protect the rights of the victims. People are coming out of the closet with this now. People are starting to accept and understand that they are a victim and because you are a victim does not mean that you do not have rights. It doesn't mean that you're any less of a human being. It doesn't mean any of those things.
Let's talk about what it is to be a victim. Sometimes when you're victimized, especially by the hurts that come from a family, as it can in any family - not just rural Yukon, native Yukon, but in any family -you can become stymied, if that's the word, and to accept that as your rightful station in life. Well, Mr. Speaker, we know that that is absolutely wrong. Absolutely wrong.
This has been done in a thoughtful and a deliberate and well carried out manner, as I can say. People are coming out with a crying need to say that they have rights and what can we do about it. I think it's getting to be for the first time that we're actually starting to think of the victim's rights and not necessarily the perpetrator. It's a two-way street. We also say that, no matter what culture you come from, whether it's a native culture, a non-native culture, one of many cultures that represent Canada, that it's not traditional. Yet, at the same time, it's not uncommon.
I'm not sure what the statistics would say on this, but I know that, as we speak, in Yukon, or in Canada somewhere, somebody is being victimized as a part of a family by an abusive partner.
I commend and laud my colleague, the Minister of Justice, for bringing this forward at this point in time, so that we might actually start to help these people that are victimized. I encourage all members of this House to put the same line of thinking behind this act that they have and had when we brought the Motor Vehicles Act up. I bet that most of us in this House could stand and speak about knowing a victimized person, whether it's a family member, whether it's a casual acquaintance, your best bud, whomever. I bet and know that every one of us in this House could speak and rise and say that to this occasion, because it is not uncommon, as I say. It is very, very common.
I think what we're doing here - what my colleague is doing here - is being very proactive, sending a message out that says, now, we shall start to change, knowing that it's going to take time to implement this, that it's going to take time to make people adjust their lives and to understand that family is first, and I must change my lifestyle, whatever it might be.
So I say that if we can put that line of thinking and that universality, that one voice, behind a very important subject, well, let's do it. I can't see any reason why we can't. All you have to do is to read a newspaper, listen to the radio, and you'll be aware that these issues come to light time and time again.
By more consulting, by different processes, are we going to be actually working to curb that now? No, absolutely not. I say let's bring it in, do it the way we're saying we'd like to do it, and then move forward with it - absolutely move forward with it.
It says here that this act is not to provide an instant solution to this great problem but to send out a strong message to victims and to offenders. If we wait for the next legislative session, that is one year. In my mind, in my line of thinking, that is one year too long. I say that we should go with it and work it in. It's not contrary to, and indeed it is to make and work better with, the law of the land. That is what it is for.
I won't speak so long as to the plight of the communities or anything, because that has been done, I think, by a lot of members of this House. I won't speak and try to reiterate those points any more. The only point I want to keep driving home is that we must work together on this so that we'll be able to bring forth this act, and then, hopefully maybe one day, one magical day, we can look forward to the day when we would not need this act, that we have through proactive thoughts, through good acts, through intervention, through communication, to the implementation of this bill, put it aside. Mr. Speaker, that is probably a pipe dream but is certainly a goal that I think we should all be going toward. It provides a sound balance between the rights of the individual and the penalties that will be imposed if the rights are denied.
It's been thought out. We've had meetings with First Nations, with women's groups, with the RCMP. The public has been invited to come to general and public meetings. Written submissions have been received and critiqued and their input has been put into here. So I encourage each and every member of this House to speak to the support of this and to have a clear and thoughtful mind and to understand that the need is immediate. The need will not go away until we make it go away, and one of the ways that we will make it go away is through an act such as this.
So let's get together on this. Let's work it through. Let's make an understanding. Simply because we do not have a heavy sitting of legislation - we have a light sitting - is that a reason to delay this? I think that it is ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous, that that would be brought forth to delay something of such importance as this.
I encourage all people here to, for gosh sake, work together to support this, because the victims are there, and what my colleague, the Minister of Justice has done, is commendable, and to that, I offer my sincerest congratulations for bringing this forward knowing that the need is immediate, and I encourage all members of this House to work toward that end to pass this act.
So thank you very much for your time.
Mr. Hardy: I rise in support of the Family Violence Prevention Act. Just, as has been raised already, a couple of comments about newspapers, media reports in the Yukon and incidence reports, over and over again. I picked up the paper again today just to see how often it is. I opened the paper today and we have "Assault Prevention Month" included in here. So, November is Assault Prevention Month. Why do we have Assault Prevention Month? We have Assault Prevention Month because people are being abused. It's a shame that we have to have a month dedicated to assault prevention. But we have it, Mr. Speaker.
I know about Assault Prevention Month because I've actually worked with the Women's Directorate and gone into schools and taught self-defence. The majority of the people we've taught the self-defence to are children and women. But we've also taught it to men, and part of the teaching of that is to teach them to control anger. We've been doing that - myself, Louise Hardy, my wife, and other people of the group that I have belonged to for 20 years. We've gone into the schools and gone into the public and offered free classes and lessons on how to prevent assault, how to see the signs when things are going to happen, how to deal with a situation where you feel trapped within your own home.
This bill deals with trying to remove the element of fear, element of threat, within your own home. Remove that person that uses their power or might to scare, to abuse people, to abuse their victims.
We've taught for, I'd say, 10 years, to assist victims and I've had to deal with many people that cannot even stand across from somebody else without getting scared, not look in the eyes of another person and stand straight to them without having fear. And that fear could come from things that happened in their childhood or have happened recently or is happening at that moment in their life, that they can't express, because they are trapped in the home.
Just before I finish, I'll turn the page again and on page 5 of the Whitehorse Star is "Provocation Defence Ridiculed." Joan Grant-Cummings was up here last week from NAC and she spoke about that.
The minister bringing forward this bill is also doing a lot of work on the national front on this provocation act, and she should be commended and applauded for the work that she's doing because it's going to have far-reaching implications to the rights of women and the protection of children in most cases.
The report on page 5 starts with the Ralph Klassen defence ploy as provocation. That's so sad that a person can use that kind of defence. Again, that was a violent murderous attack. It took the life of someone who was truly loved throughout the Yukon and well-known within the home. The Family Violence Prevention Act tries to deal with that case. It's a step in the right direction. I hear criticism on the other side that we should delay it, we should allow more consultation, but I don't think we should delay this. This should have been in a long time ago. There's more to come, I hope.
Our society - we have to look at a larger scale - is one where violence is partly tolerated and definitely encouraged. Anybody who doesn't believe me only has to turn their TV on and look at what's showing, look at what the children are watching, look what you're sitting down and watching. What are the most popular shows? What are the elements that attract people; it's violence. We're teaching generations that violence is good by constantly showing it over and over and over in different lights. It's acceptable; it's part of our makeup.
How many times have you walked down the street in a community or in Whitehorse and heard yelling? Sometimes you can hear it through the thin walls of the old houses of Whitehorse or in some of the communities. You know there's violence in there and you just keep walking and the poor people in there are trapped.
Violence has touched all of our lives. Some of us, it has touched very closely. Some of us have seen it in our own families, our spouses. Sometimes it's our neighbours. What do we do about it? We just keep walking. Why do we keep walking? Why don't we do something there? Why don't we phone, bring in help, assistance? This act allows us to do that.
Now there's an avenue to remove the criminal, the abuser, to get him out of the home and allow the victim or the victims to still have the support of their neighbours, their friends, their family, their community around them and not the other way because it has almost always been the other way, where you've had to remove the victim. They've lost their family; they've lost their homes; they've lost their bedrooms; they've lost their kitchen; they've lost their friends and their neighbours; they've lost their support and they're shuttled around in fear. Yet, the abuser gets everything and keeps everything.
This is about victims' rights. I would hope that this would be accepted without debate over delay, more talks. It astounds me that we keep wanting to delay good acts because we have to talk about it more. Well there's no such thing as an act that can't be amended, a bill that cannot be amended. There's no such thing as "this is the end of the line," but we do have to move forward on some stuff. There's been a lot of discussion and a lot of input. Training and public education are essential elements.
I think everybody has to take this further and recognize that we have to stop walking past violence. We have to start to speak out against it. We have to tell our children that it's not tolerated, and we have to do it by example.
Part of the example is support of this bill. Another part is talking openly about the violence within our society and not allowing people to get away with it, and not letting it be hidden behind the doors.
Part of it is supporting the people that are willing to stand up, and support them outright, not with conditions, not with paraphrases, not with excuses.
How much violence have we seen in our society in the last while? Somebody pulls a gun, shoots at their wife or children - it just happened recently. Somebody throws somebody over a balcony - it just happened recently. We all know a couple of cases.
The Member for Whitehorse West mentioned two cases of actual murder. We all know of it. Then there's the small violence, the ones that are perpetrated daily, the ones where children live in fear, a spouse lives in fear, and it happens on a daily basis. Each one leads to the next level or has the potential of leading to the next level if it isn't addressed, if it isn't confronted.
When somebody makes a comment that is violent in nature, or sexist and abusive, we shouldn't laugh. We shouldn't encourage it. We should just shut it down right there, say it's not tolerated and I'm not going to tolerate it, and you're not going to listen to that kind of stuff.
That's part of education, too. It's for everyone in our society to finally stand up and say, "Enough is enough."
So I rise and support this, and I really do support the minister in doing this. She's doing wonderful work. I hope this is passed in this House.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, family violence is an issue that remains of the highest priority both to me personally and to this government. Too many people in the Yukon - women and children in particular - do not enjoy the basic right to feel safe in their own homes and communities. Violence in our communities against children, women and elders has for too long been a hidden crime.
Victims are often subjected to ongoing emotional and physical abuse and feel the existing justice system does not do enough to help them. Some feel doubly victimized by a legal system, which they perceive to be weighted in favour of the offender rather than the victim.
Part of the responsibility that governments have is to enact laws that will protect those people who are least able to protect themselves. Legislation is required that can offer speedy help to victims of family violence that will, firstly, protect them from their abuser; secondly, help them to regain control over their own lives; and thirdly, help the whole family to obtain the counselling they need to prevent the abuse from continuing.
My government is committed to developing legislation and programs that are directed at helping and protecting victims of family violence. The Family Violence Prevention Act is designed to fill the gaps in the Justice response to family violence and to complement the Criminal Code of Canada in providing a comprehensive response at a most crucial time. In other words, the Criminal Code is more focused on the offender and issues of innocence or guilt and punishment. The Family Violence Protection Act will be focused on the victim's rights and needs and on holding the offender accountable.
Mr. Speaker, that is why I am gravely disturbed by members of the opposition standing here today and using this bill for their partisan, political purposes to criticize the government. The members opposite claim to share a common concern about the dreadful reality of many people's lives here in the Yukon.
I have talked to many individual victims of violence, children who have been raped, women who have been beaten, seniors whose pension cheques are seized and who survive on a minimal diet, all at the hands of family members. I have also talked to shelter workers, women activists, members of community justice committees, volunteers on the many social service agencies and community groups that exist to help, lawyers, and many, many others, not just over the past three months, Mr. Speaker, but over the past 22 years.
I've talked to them about the horrifying reality of family violence. I've seen the scars and bruises and I'm determined to do something about it.
The Member for Riverside indicated that this bill could act as a good remedy in some cases, that it adds to the victim's protection armoury. He also indicated that the orders have some dangers, in that improper accusations could be made by people who approach a justice of the peace for an emergency intervention order or a victims assistance order. Well, Mr. Speaker, the bill that was tabled by a Liberal member in this House in the spring included those same orders in it. What we have done in response to those concerns is to set up a mechanism to balance the rights of the victim and the rights of the offender.
In our bill, we have made it an offence to make a false statement, to disobey an order or to obstruct a peace officer carrying out an order under this act. That is just one of the many amendments we have made, Mr. Speaker, as a result of good public consultation, and I'll be going through some of the other changes that we have made to this bill.
Most of the questions that have been raised are ones that have already been asked during the consultation process and that have been responded to by the government. I am at a loss to understand why the members opposite want to delay responding to family violence.
There were questions from the official opposition critic about the seizure of firearms and about the mechanisms in this bill being stronger. This act is focused strictly on the time at which intervention is critical. There are other means available when firearms are used in an offence. The Criminal Code contains provisions that deal with a more enduring firearms seizure. Upon conviction of a violent offence, there is a mandatory prohibition on weapons. We must ensure that we do not invade existing criminal law powers. This bill allows for an immediate firearms seizure.
There were questions raised as well about training for justices of the peace. Many members of the community felt that it was very important that justices of the peace who would be used to give out an emergency intervention order, or other orders under the act, should have an understanding of the dynamics of family violence. That is a model that has been used in Saskatchewan and in Prince Edward Island, where this bill has already been brought into effect.
However, Mr. Speaker, it is presently inappropriate to legislate what sort of training judges should have. I invite the Member for Riverdale North to put that issue forward to Mr. Hughes, who will also be speaking to the judges when he conducts his work on looking at the Territorial Court Act.
We expect cooperation with the courts and if clearer guidelines are needed on training, and Mr. Hughes recommends, we will consider further amendments and/or regulations that address mandatory training.
This bill will not, in my view, raise the level of crime in our communities. This bill will, however, give the RCMP and others additional mechanisms to deal with crime. The RCMP are in support of this bill and, contrary to the criticism that I heard from the Liberal members of the House, I have a letter which I can read into the record from the RCMP, indicating that they support the bill, naming the sergeant that they have put in charge of working with the government and with RCMP members to ensure that this new tool is used effectively by the police in our communities.
This bill also states that orders must be served on the respondent. The victim or the peace officer or others could be involved in that. That's one of the measures that we've put in place to respond to some of the questions that have been raised by the public.
How else is the bill different from the one in Saskatchewan? We have included a preamble to the bill which speaks to the fact that family violence continues to be a serious problem in the Yukon, that one of the difficulties victims of family violence face is that the abuser often forces them to leave their own home to escape the abuse, and that there must be effective legal procedures that victims of family violence can easily use to get immediate help and relief from the abuse.
We've made that intent clear in the preamble of the bill.
We have made the hearing process simple and clean. We intend, within existing budget allocations, to develop information brochures that will be made available to the people in all of our communities so that they can understand this bill. We are stressing informality. You do not need a law degree in order to understand and use this bill.
We have made threats, as well as violence itself, an offence under this bill. We have broadened the definition of victims and of family violence to reflect the concerns in the communities.
There have been many legitimate concerns raised by the community and I want to inform members about the public consultation that has occurred since the discussion paper was sent out in September. Dozens of groups responded before the deadline of October 31 about ways they'd like to see this bill changed and their suggestions have been incorporated into the changes we have made to this bill.
We sent consultation documents to all Yukon First Nations, the Council of Yukon First Nations, the judiciary, the RCMP, women's shelters, many women's groups, the Law Society of Yukon, the Yukon Legal Services Society and Yukon Family Services, to name some of the organizations that have been consulted.
The general reaction to the bill was favourable. Numerous questions that were raised dealt with the implementation of the bill, and I have accordingly made the commitment that we will continue to work with the community on implementing this bill. Let me tell the members opposite that we have taken counsel on the issue of violence in our communities during the consultation process and it is a matter of public record how we have amended our bill in order to take their concerns into account.
Kaushee's Place's concerns were not dismissed. We have held public forums on this act, which the director of Kaushee's Place attended. I have held meetings with all of the groups who sent an identical letter of concern about mainly implementation issues and, Mr. Speaker, when I met with them last week they did not ask me to pull the bill. They did not ask for this to be withdrawn. That's what the opposition wants us to do.
The Member for Porter Creek North said that he would prefer to see me in public consultation. Well, where was that member at the two public sessions that were held after there was much discussion in the media about this bill? Mr. Speaker, I didn't see him or any of his caucus members there. I saw the transition home there, I saw members of the legal community there, I saw the Liberal caucus there, I saw women's organizations represented. So we've been listening to the community.
We consulted first, and we changed the bill to reflect the concerns that we heard. I've received many letters of support for this bill. People in rural communities have said that there has been a healthy discussion about family violence held on an interagency basis as a result of receiving this discussion paper, and in some cases they indicated that that interagency discussion was the first that had happened in five years. So, our government takes this problem seriously and is very pleased about the level of response that we've had from the community.
The Member for Riverdale South wanted to know why the warrants of entry were felt to be necessary and why we had kept this in the bill. Well, Mr. Speaker, I note that that provision is in the bill that she tabled in the House in the spring and I'd like to respond by saying we felt that warrants of entry may be necessary in cases of elder abuse, and in the cases where they are needed we wanted to have them there. The member did not give any reason why she would like to withdraw the section of the bill which is, in fact, included in the domestic violence act.
We are not downloading responsibilities to front-line workers at the transition home. We are attempting to work with transition home workers, as with many other segments of the community who take the problem of violence seriously, in order to give them additional mechanisms to help victims to live safely.
While we stand here talking, Mr. Speaker, let me just review what the federal government released in one of the many, many studies and reports that have been done over the years about violence in our communities. Half the women in Canada have experienced one act of violence by the time they have reached the age of 16. One in six married women reported violence by a spouse. Half of all women with previous marriages reported violence with their previous partner. A quarter of all women have experienced violence with their current partners, including common-law relationships.
Mr. Speaker, I have attempted to put these issues on the national agenda by discussing violence against women at ministers of Justice conferences. I am attempting to resolve this problem by bringing forward territorial legislation. I can tell the members opposite and I can tell the public that there are thousands of signatures on petitions to deal with violence against women.
Why do victims feel revictimized by the criminal justice system? For a number of reasons. One of them is that a man who murders his wife can use the defence of provocation. He can argue that he was provoked to kill her because she threatened his authority or insulted him. Over 15,000 people have signed a petition asking to eliminate the defence of provocation from the Criminal Code.
We need to not just speak out against the violence in our society. We have a responsibility to do something about it. I would like to have support from the members opposite to do something about it.
The question was asked as well about what happens on First Nations land.
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I think the Member for Porter Creek North, who asked that question, failed to understand the land claims agreement. Laws of general application, whether it's the Criminal Code of Canada, the Motor Vehicles Act or the Family Violence Prevention Act, apply on First Nations land unless or until a First Nation passes its own laws on the same subject.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to emphasize that we believe it's very important to involve the public. I believe this bill sends a strong message to victims and offenders that abuse is not accepted and will not be tolerated.
Unfortunately, the message from the opposition is to run roughshod over the rights and needs of victims, to refuse to acknowledge our government's work to respond to the helpful advice we've been given by many, many people. I hope that the members opposite will support our approach to continue with coordinated and multi-agency approaches to violence against women and children and how to resolve that. I hope that members opposite can be constructive. I think we have a need for ongoing work on this very tough issue, but it's been particularly tough to see the shallow level of debate from the opposition benches. I urge members to consider supporting this bill.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Question.
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, would you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. Livingston: Agree.
Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 14 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: I declare the motion carried
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 24 agreed to
Bill No. 37: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 37, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that Bill No. 37, entitled the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Act, 1997, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 37, entitled Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Act, 1997, be now read a second time.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Act, 1997 is an important contract between government and the people it represents. It gives the public the right of access to information held in government records. Equally important, it places government under an obligation to protect the privacy of people's personal information.
To paraphrase some speakers at a recent symposium on the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the ability of citizens to know what government is doing on their behalf is a fundamental democratic right. The legislated assurance that government will protect the privacy of individuals' personal information is a fundamental human right.
Mr. Speaker, this government believes in the importance of both of these rights as expressed in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Access to information is a key component of open, transparent and accountable government. Protecting the privacy of personal information allows people to control the flow of information about them, even with new information technologies that are becoming more and more a part of our daily lives.
The Yukon's Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act embodies these principles. It gives citizens the right of access to information held in the records of this government. This includes the right of people to review the information held by government about them as individuals and the right to request that this information be corrected if there are errors in government records.
These rights, Mr. Speaker, are subject only to the specific limited exemptions set out in the act. These exemptions are areas where a degree of confidentiality is required to govern in the broader public interest.
This act also recognizes and respects the human right of privacy. It embodies fair information practices advocated by such organizations as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Canadian Standards Association.
With this act, the Yukon government has entered into a contract with citizens, a contract that states: "We will collect only the information about you that we need to carry out a program or provide a benefit. We will use this information for the purpose it was collected. We will safeguard this information, and we will disclose it only in accordance with the law." These commitments, Mr. Speaker, are important if people are to feel they have control over information about themselves and control over their lives.
Another key feature of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is the ability of citizens to ask for an independent review of government decisions and actions. This is provided through the information and privacy commissioner who, as members know, is an officer of this House, not an employee of government.
The amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act before the House today enhance the ability of the information and privacy commissioner to ensure fairness when it comes to the provisions of this act.
Let me now, Mr. Speaker, turn to the specific amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Basically, they address two sets of issues. They complete the legislated obligation to deal with the relationship of this act to other Yukon laws.
They respond to recommendations made by the information and privacy commissioner for improvements to the current act.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is the standard rule within the Yukon government for providing access to information and protecting the privacy of personal information.
As the standard rule, this act is to prevail over or to be paramount to other Yukon laws, except in exceptional circumstances. The paramountcy of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is enshrined in the legislation.
When it was passed in 1995 and proclaimed in 1996, the act allowed a two-year period of time before the paramountcy clause came into full effect. This intervening period was provided to allow time to review other Yukon statutes to determine what acts or sections of acts needed to be paramount to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
This review is now complete and the bill before the House addresses those limited number of cases where the standard rules under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act do not meet special requirements. I am pleased that this work was complete before the legislated deadline.
We are proposing that the Vital Statistics Act and specific sections in the Children's Act, the Young Persons Offences Act and the Motor Vehicles Act be paramount to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. These amendments are necessary to provide for more specific protection for individuals' privacy than is the case under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The Children's Act and the Vital Statistics Act, for example, have particular requirements for adoption records designed to protect the identity of birth parents, adopted children and their families. They also have special requirements for access to this information that cannot be met through the requirements of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. These amendments allow the provisions designed to address these special circumstances to continue to operate.
Mr. Speaker, in addition to these amendments, this bill makes consequential amendments to two acts: the Fuel Oil Tax Act and the Insurance Premium Tax Act. These amendments allow the sharing of information with federal and provincial jurisdictions for the administration and enforcement of the acts. These amendments bring these acts into compliance with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which permits disclosures of personal information in accordance with the law.
As well, the bill before the House repeals sections of several acts that are no longer necessary because they have been replaced by the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Act, 1997. In the case of the Elevator and Fixed Conveyances Act, for example, we are substituting a provision allowing all plans, files and records to be kept confidential, with rules for access to information.
We are also, with this bill, making specific improvements to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in response to recommendations made by the information and privacy commissioner. The commissioner circulated his letter to all members of this House last fall and I have copies available for members who, I understand, requested it at a briefing this morning.
The letter was written to members on March 31, 1997. We are strengthening the provisions about the management of records, recognizing that proper records management is an important component of the commitment the act makes to providing access to information and protecting privacy. With these amendments, the information and privacy commissioner can report and make recommendations to a minister about any instance where government records are not being managed or kept properly. This will allow corrective action to be taken. At the same time, we are taking a clear stance on the tampering of records. It will become an offence, under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Act, 1997 to destroy or create a record with the intent to mislead anyone.
With these amendments, the information and privacy commissioner will also be required to refer to the RCMP any matter if he has reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed. This will avoid any perception that government was involved in determining whether to proceed with an investigation of wrongdoing that may involve a government department or official.
As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Speaker, these amendments enhance the powers of the information and privacy commissioner to review government decisions. More specifically, the information and privacy commissioner will now have the ability to review and make recommendations on the fees charged in connection with an access to information request. This will help to ensure a proper balance between the cost to government of responding to access requests and an individual's ability to gain the information he or she wants.
The information and privacy commissioner will also have, with these amendments, more flexibility in completing reviews where mediation is being attempted to resolve an issue. The act currently requires all reviews to be completed within 90 days. These amendments will give the commissioner up to an additional 60 days, if it is needed, to complete mediation of a review.
Mr. Speaker, one of the issues raised by Harley Johnson when he was the Yukon's information and privacy commissioner, and more recently by the current commissioner, Hank Moorlag, is the absence in the act of any process to be followed when the commissioner has a conflict of interest or a perceived bias. This was of particular concern to both commissioners because of the smallness of this jurisdiction and the fact that the commissioner has another role as the Yukon's ombudsman. These amendments set out a procedure to deal with those circumstances. It allows the information and privacy commissioner to notify the Speaker, who will consult with the Members' Services Board and appoint an acting commissioner to deal with a specific review.
This notification process and appointment procedure recognizes the reporting relationship of the commissioner to this House. It also allows all parties in the Legislature a say in the appointment of an acceptable alternate in such cases.
Before concluding my remarks, I also want to outline one further change proposed to the act. It allows the Yukon archives to disclose personal information about an individual for historical or archival research purposes after a person has been dead for 25 or more years. This amendment supports the interest of historical research. It will still, of course, be incumbent on the archives to guard against releasing personal information that would infringe on the privacy of others or be hurtful to an individual's family.
Mr. Speaker, these amendments, I believe, reflect this government's strong commitment to an effective Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. These amendments will help clear up the difference between what is public and private, as we committed to do. They clarify the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act's relationship with other Yukon laws. They -
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30, the Speaker will leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will continue with second reading of Bill No. 37.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Act, 1997 amendments clarify its relationship with other laws. They strengthen the role of the information and privacy commissioner and the act itself in some key areas. I look forward to the comments of other members and to further debate on this bill.
Mr. Ostashek: If the Minister of Justice would have made the comments that she just finished making after the session started here, when she first introduced the bill, she would've been 100 percent right. That's all the bill is: a few inconsequential amendments. But for her to go on and on and try to take credit for the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, she can try as she might, but she will not be able to take credit for the act.
We only need to look back to Hansard to see how much she was against the act when she was in opposition and how she spoke out against the act in opposition. So, try as she might, there's not any way that she'll be able to take credit for this act or the amendments that are brought in.
I know that government is feeling very defensive about the lack of legislation they have this session and the lack of what they've accomplished in one year in office. This afternoon, I even heard the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes say that it's a very light legislative agenda. Mr. Speaker, I can understand why they're defensive.
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Mr. Ostashek: I can understand why they're defensive. They can't do anything about the high unemployment; they can't do anything about bringing legislation in, so they have to get very defensive, Mr. Speaker. Nevertheless, these are consequential amendments, some that were recommended by the access to information commissioners. I don't see any real initiatives here on the part of the NDP government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Nothing new. So, we really don't have much to say about it. We do thank the minister for the briefing she provided this morning. That did confirm that there was nothing to get excited about - that the act is healthy, is a good act, and there was a two-year review period, and some of these minor amendments that are coming through were ones that had to come through within two years of the act being proclaimed.
We are going to have a couple of questions as we go through Committee. The one area of concern that I have is on the request by the access to information commissioner for the 90-day extension. If the Minister of Justice will recall, we debated this act in this Legislature two years ago.
Some two years ago, one of the principles and rationales behind the act was so that the public could have speedy access to information. That was the reason for the 60-day clause in there. That was looked at, in looking at other jurisdictions and what they're doing, and some of the difficulties that the public has suffered under the old Access to Information Act of being stonewalled for information when they requested it.
So, I'm going to be looking for the minister to give us some very solid rationales as to why the commissioner needs a 90-day extension to be able to file a report.
There were a couple of other questions that we had that I'm sure her personnel have made her aware of that we raised in the briefing this morning. We want to see how some of these amendments compare with other acts in this country and we hope that that information will be forthcoming before we get out of Committee debate on it.
As I said, Mr. Speaker, the title of the act says it all: consequential amendments. We don't have a great amount of difficulty with them.
Mr. Cable: The Liberal caucus has similar comments as what were just voiced by the leader of the official opposition.
I'd like to thank the minister for the briefing this morning, and most of the changes appear to be of a workshop nature. I should indicate to her that she will have some difficulty in convincing us that the further extension of 60 days, making a total of 150 days to reply to a review of an access to information application, is in fact needed. The point behind the access to information is that you can get information in a somewhat expeditious fashion, so there isn't - to use the word that was used a moment ago - an opportunity to stonewall through one or two sessions of the Legislature. So the minister has her work cut out for herself in trying to convince us that 150 days is necessary.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm just speaking on behalf of this act from the point of view of Health and Social Services.
I'd just like to take a few minutes to speak to the fact that certain sections of acts will be paramount and prevail over the ATIPP act, and I thought for purposes of clarification for the members that I'd just bring these forward.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That's okay. I'm just doing this for your edification. It's a teachable moment, Doug. We never quit trying to enlighten those who linger yet in darkness. It's our goal to bring people to that new Jerusalem, to bring people to the beacon of social democracy, if we might.
So, on that note, what I would like to do is just take a few moments, perhaps an hour or two, and speak to some of these acts which are paramount to the ATIPP act, the first being the Children's Act, section 96. This section deals with adoption documents and registration and this is an area where there are special rules to protect the anonymity of individuals. The Children's Act requires that adoption records be sealed and that information that identifies a birth parent of an adoptive child may be disclosed only in accordance with the adoption and information disclosure regulations. The conditions for the disclosure of identifying information are these: when there is consent from the adult adoptee or birth parent to disclose this information about themselves to the other party; when an adult adopted person requests information and both birth parents are deceased; when the disclosure of information is necessary for the preservation or restoration of the health of the adopted person; when the disclosure is necessary to determine the right of inheritance; or when the person whose consent is required cannot be located and only if that person has not previously instructed that disclosure cannot be made.
This differs significantly from the ATIPP act in that an adopted person does not have access to some records held by the government about him or herself. A birth parent does not have access to records held by the government about an adopted child who is a minor. Birth parents and adult adoptees have access to records or identifying information about each other under very restricted circumstances.
The second part of the act which has paramountcy over this is the Young Persons Offences Act, section 32 and 34. These sections maintain the current rules protecting the identity of a young person involved in violations of Yukon laws; for example, the Liquor Act, the Motor Vehicles Act.
Section 32 prohibits the publication of names or identifying information about a young person, whether an offender, victim or witness involved in an offence. Section 34 prohibits the disclosure of records concerning an offence by a young person, except in accordance with the Young Offenders Act.
Access to records dealing with young offenders cases are held by the government as more restrictive than access to other records included under the ATIPP and this is essentially in following on the spirit of the Young Offenders Act and also because these circumstances often involve a combination of federal and territorial offences, so it would be difficult to sever territorial records if they were subject to different rules of access and disclosure.
The third aspect of the third act which has paramountcy over the ATIPP act has to do with vital statistics. The purpose of this act is to ensure the accuracy and completeness of vital records of the Yukon Territory. This act has a specialized code dealing with the collection and disclosure of personal information. This code often conflicts with collection and disclosure provisions of the ATIPP act; for example, under the Vital Statistics Act, information concerning a birth, stillbirth, marriage or death of a person may be collected from any person having knowledge of the facts; any person furnishing information satisfactorily to the registrar may have access to most vital statistics information about an individual.
The act also complements provisions of the Children's Act relating to adoption disclosure, in that there are special provisions to limit disclosure about and to adopted persons and their families. That is about the end.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I thank the member who previously spoke for putting that on the record, even though that was the context of the briefing we had today. I guess he was just making the rest of us aware - or the people who didn't attend the briefing -of what changes are in the act.
As we know, I think the Minister of Tourism said it today more clearly than most when he said that there wasn't very much legislation that was new in this session. He made a statement here today. I will be looking forward to looking at Hansard tomorrow, but I recall sitting up sharply when he admitted that there wasn't really anything new this session. I guess this is an example of that.
This is really housekeeping legislation. It's a requirement of the previous act that was in place that asked us to go back and look at things within a two-year period and move the consequential amendments, and that's what the minister is doing. I'm glad the minister is doing her job.
There are some other things here. There were some recommendations that were made by both privacy commissioners. The first one we had from Alberta, I believe, and then Mr. Moorlag, who is the current privacy commissioner. That was one of the things that was talked about in the first act, as well - giving it a year or two to play out and then hear some recommendations for it.
I want to thank the people who were really responsible for this act, and that would be Mr. Moorlag and the previous privacy commissioner, as well as the people within the bureaucracy who have looked at the various acts that this particular Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Act, 1997 would affect, and the hard work that they've done in preparing this for the minister.
I want to thank the minister for putting her name to the act. I know that it's important that someone shepherds these acts through the House. Although this isn't an earth shatteringly new piece of legislation, it is an important piece of legislation for all Yukoners.
The Access to Information and Protect of Privacy Act was brought in by the Yukon Party government a couple of years ago. It's a good piece of legislation and that's indicated by the few minor amendments - basically housekeeping amendments - that are in front of us here today.
So I also want to thank the previous Government Leader, the Member for Porter Creek North, who, I believe, shepherded that act through the House at the time to allow for access to information and the protection of privacy of Yukon citizens, and I appreciate the work that was done by the people when they put that act together.
So, this is really just another housekeeping bill, as most of them have been in this session, so I'm pleased to see the minister has brought this forward, and we're dealing with it here today.
Other than the time limit that has been put on and was extended now for the government to respond to dealing with a particular request for information, I have no problem with the act.
I do have a problem, as other members have indicated, with the time frame. I think it was 90 days initially, and now we're going another 60 days, so we're looking at a five-month period, and I think that's far too long.
The intent of the act - and I think all members on all sides spoke about this - was to give a speedy resolution to individuals who wanted to get access to information and to prevent the stonewalling.
There were accusations made in the past that stonewalling went on within government preventing people from getting this information, so I do have a problem with that amendment, but other than that, the rest of the act, as we've said before, is basically housekeeping, and I appreciate the fact that the minister has brought it forward in their first legislative session.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a few, very brief comments for the minister.
I would like to reiterate the comments of my caucus colleague and others with respect to the time frame mentioned in the act. I believe that is cause for concern, and I hope there is an amendment, or a change, brought forward.
I would also like to put an issue before the minister and ask that perhaps she respond to it at a later date or in Committee on debate. There was a point raised in one of the British Columbia newspapers yesterday regarding the ability of organ donors to meet or be in touch with the recipients. It was a news story respecting a small child whose organs had been donated, and the parent wanted to meet the recipients. What happened is that a change had to be made to B.C. legislation to allow for that to happen.
I carefully listened to the comments of the Minister of Health and Social Services on this act. I checked the changes that are in the act, compared them with the health care insurance plan and the Hospital Insurance Services Act, and it would seem that this is covered. However, I would like to ask the Minister of Justice and Minister of Health and Social Services if they could address that issue, specifically on organ donation - if it's possible under this act, in the Yukon, if it is the wishes of both parties for them to meet, if it's prevented in legislation or if it's even something that we should be examining in the context of this particular piece of legislation as an additional amendment.
Mr. Livingston: Some of the members opposite are trying to make some mileage out of the notion that these are consequential amendments and, in fact, the amendments being brought in are really of no consequence. I think the member opposite is, quite simply, wrong. If we take a look at some of the work that's being done here, it does have an impact and, in fact, it adds some teeth to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is, of course, about democratic and human rights. It guaranteed access to Yukon government records, with some exceptions. It guaranteed access to personal information and the opportunity to correct information that is, in fact, inaccurate.
This act also, of course, goes some ways to protecting privacy. It prevents other people from seeing information about you without your permission and unauthorized personal information from being collected, used or made public.
Within the act, in addition to the matter of paramountcy that has been talked about by a couple of the ministers, establishing paramountcy between the various bills with respect to the Vital Statistics Act, the Children's Act, Young Persons Offences Act, Motor Vehicles Act and so on, the amendments to this act do go some ways toward addressing some of the shortcomings of the original act. And I would note in particular that there is the opportunity for the privacy commissioner to review the fees paid by applicants. I think that offers some flexibility when there might be a situation where those fees might be onerous.
Also, I note that the privacy commissioner makes a report to a minister of information, comments and makes recommendations about instances of maladministration in the management and safekeeping of records. Of course, what that does is that it offers an opportunity for a minister to address shortcomings within a particular department, and good information, hopefully, can lead to good decisions addressing some of those issues.
In addition, Mr. Speaker, I note that the commissioner is now required to report evidence of an offence under Yukon or Canadian law to the RCMP rather than to the minister, and I think that that corrects one of the shortcomings of the original act introduced a couple of years ago.
Also, there's the avoidance of a conflict of interest by appointing an acting commissioner in those kinds of instances and, maybe most significantly, an offence section is now added where it makes it an offence to tamper with a record for the purposes of misleading any individuals.
So clearly, the act has been strengthened in a couple of important ways that are going to help give Yukoners some sense of confidence about their relationships with government. This government, our government, is one that wants to act in a fair and open manner with Yukoners, and I think that's what this act is about really - characterizing the relationship between citizens and their government.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act really is a tool for citizens. I think in its amended form it will be a sharper tool, if you like, in terms of personal information, to make sure that one's personal information is both accurate and private so that citizens can satisfy themselves that public government is good government by providing that access to documents and information.
And I would say in closing, Mr. Speaker, part of this Yukon government's commitment to a better way is our ongoing work to forge improved relations between the citizens of this territory and their government. And we want that relationship to be one that's responsive and respectful. I think that these amendments to the act help to strengthen that confidence.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I rise in support of this act in general terms, except for the additional time lines that were added for response by the department. As the minister from Laberge indicated, it adds teeth. It certainly does add teeth in that area. It adds teeth and additional delays and, probably, frustration on the part of the individuals seeking information under this act. And, it certainly puts a total frustration on that individual.
Any time there is an increase in time lines it should be shortened to ensure that the government does respond in a more timely manner and the process is speeded up not slowed down. With the exception of that part of the act, Mr. Speaker, it has been a good act, it has served the people of the Yukon well and it's indicative of the forethought that went into the original drafting and the people that steered the act through this Legislature.
The housekeeping amendments are of a minor and consequential nature, and thus the title.
So, in closing, Mr. Speaker, if the minister would give careful consideration to changing the time lines back to where they originally were, we could give 100 percent support of this act.
Thank you very much.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to thank the members opposite for their qualified support of this bill. The Yukon Party seems to be labouring under a misapprehension. I thought I heard their leader state that the New Democrats were opposed to this bill. Now, I know that the Member for Porter Creek North wasn't in the Legislature prior to 1992, so I will remind him that, in 1992, the New Democrat government of the day passed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act legislation.
I would just like to reiterate that the purposes of that bill were to provide a right of access to information, under the control of government departments and agencies, in accordance with the principles that information should be available to the public. Necessary exemptions from the right of access to information should be limited and specific, and decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government. Secondly, the principle of the New Democrat Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act legislation was to protect the privacy of individuals with respect to personal information about themselves, held by government, and to provide people with a right of access to that information.
Mr. Speaker, I think it's very clear, and I want to reassure the members opposite that we support the principle of disclosure of information held by governments about individuals. That's very important in a democratic society.
The members opposite have mentioned a few times that they are concerned about the extension of the 90-day time frame to conduct a review of a request for information. I just want to explain to the members why this recommendation has been brought forward by both of our information and privacy commissioners. The commissioner must normally complete a review within 90 days. The commissioner may also authorize an attempt to mediate. Where mediation is attempted and fails, the 90-day time limit is found by the privacy commissioners to be very restrictive. They would like to see an additional 60 days allowed for completing a mediation. Alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, such as mediation, may take longer than the 90-day time frame that's presently in the bill.
It's worth noting that this extension does not apply to all reviews but only to those reviews in which the information and privacy commissioner is attempting to resolve a dispute through the mediation process. It therefore supports mediated solutions while giving some flexibility to complete the mediation process, so I hope that that will reassure members that this is not an extension that will automatically occur in every case, but it's being done in order to support the mediation process where that is being used.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 37 agreed to
Bill No. 43: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 43, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Sloan.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I detected an almost ominous touch there.
Mr. Speaker, I'm very pleased, as Minister of Health and Social Services, to be sponsoring amendments to the Public Health Act. This act has been around since the beginning of the legislative governing in the Yukon, and as I was going through it, I came across this marvellous piece of sort of end-of-empire legislation. It's just terrific. It has those nifty symbols - the lion and the unicorn - so I think it's a historical document. It's quite attractive.
This Ordinance 20 of 1902 was entitled An Ordinance Respecting Public Health. This is the first edition, you might say, of today's act. The act at that time was called the Yukon Health Ordinance, and was ascended to on September 1, 1902, by the Commissioner, "With the advice and consent of the Council of the said Territory." Of course, the council was the Territorial Council, which is the equivalent of this august Chamber today, and next June as we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of this governing body in the Yukon, I think these are interesting bits of history, just to remind us of the passing of time.
Now, what's the adage? The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Speaker: Order please. You have to move the motion.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm sorry. I was carried away by my own enthusiasm once again.
Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 43, An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Health and Social Services that Bill No. 43, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, does this mean that I have to begin my -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, okay, thank you. Well, as I was saying, we've come a long way from the 1902 bill, but I think there have been a number of things that have happened since the period of the Klondike Gold Rush. The act of 1902 says that the medical health officer, with the approval of the Commissioner, may make, from time to time, sanitary regulations for the prevention of infection and contagious diseases. Well this is rather fascinating. This act continues to do essentially what occurred back in 1902.
Back in the early 1900s, there were considerable problems with public health. The transient nature of the people coming into the territory seeking gold proved to be a vector for disease to move into the territory. There was no safe sanitation disposal. Some of the early gold seekers lived in some temporary dwellings without adequate water supplies and I suppose, literally, within spitting distance of thousands of other similar shanties. These were the ideal conditions for serious epidemics, so the Public Health Act was born.
Now the reason I mention all of this is because later on in some of the amendments, you'll notice that there is a substantial increase in fines. Back in 1902, the original act could enforce a penalty up to the maximum of $400 for any one offence. The present fines are $500. So, in this amendment, we would actually increase the maximum to perhaps a more modern and realistic amount.
Back in 1902, the medical officer of health could order the cleaning and purifying and disinfecting of houses, churches, buildings, steamboats, and control the arrival and departure of boats, vessels, cargo, bury the dead, conduct funerals, regulate compulsory vaccinations and prescribe quarantine.
While I'm going to be discussing a medical officer of health, I will sort of assure this House that, despite tourists sometimes asking when the S.S. Klondike will sail, our present medical officer of health does not have the authority to prevent its departure.
In the past number of years we have had a number of public health crises. One that comes to mind is the polio epidemic of the 1950s. I think there are still a number of people in this territory who were sick at that time and either suffered from this disease or know people who suffered from it. So, the Public Health Act prepares us and gives us the authority to deal with such emergencies.
Why does this act have to be changed? Obviously, this legislation has stood the test of time to cover, basically, the same concerns. But there is a need to update this act, and there is a need for territorial legislation dealing with public safety and some new conditions which exist.
The last major addition to this act occurred in 1972 adding prohibitions - and I'm almost loathe to mention what they are because I can see now that I will be heckled on this one. In 1972, a prohibition was added against "regulated matter or substances that are inhaled for a hallucinogenic or intoxicating effect". Oh, good.
The current act deals mainly with controlled communicable diseases and sets up regulations to control the common sources of such diseases, such as water sources, sewage systems, food premises. It provides for regulations dealing with other threats to public health, such as chemical contaminants, processes or conditions to which the public is exposed that may be injurious to health.
Health officers and medical health officers enforce the act and regulations under the act and provide information and prevention activities. Health officers generally do the day-to-day business, such as inspecting restaurants and sewage systems. Medical health officers generally deal with communicable diseases and serious health hazards which could affect groups of people or communities. The act allows municipalities, if they wish, to set up health boards and designate officers to enforce the act and regulations in their municipality, if they choose.
Now, I would like to clarify a matter that some people are finding confusing. Prior to the transfer of community health programs to the Yukon government, federal employees, or health officers, were under contract to the territory to enforce the Yukon Public Health Act and regulations. The health officers are now Yukon government employees, but their duties under the Public Health Act have not changed. The Public Health Act has been the subject of review for the past three years. There are 14 regulations under the act which are in need of updating, and the review of the Public Health Act seemed like the best place to start.
The amendments are a result of a three-phase consultation.
The first phase was the formation of a steering committee composed of Yukon federal government health officials, the City of Whitehorse, CYFN, the health officer and the medical health office representatives. The committee reviewed the act and suggested a number of changes. In the second phase, proposed amendments were distributed to the public and key interest groups, including municipalities and First Nations, for comment in the summer of 1995. Thirdly, a summary of the key changes were sent to all First Nations and municipalities for final comments in February of this year, with a final follow-up letter to municipalities in October 1997.
I'd like to briefly just touch on what the amendments to the act are and what they will do. The first is basically a change of the name of the act to the Public Health and Safety Act, which gives a bit of a new perspective. The act and regulations under the act address both public health and public safety issues. The new title reflects the mandate under which the act could deal with issues related to safety that could potentially have an adverse effect on the health of the public. The amendments contain authority to make regulations about the prevention and removal of unsafe conditions on public or private property. Any new regulations in this regard will be subject to existing legislation, and key groups such as municipalities and First Nations will be involved in their development.
The preamble is added to the act and is designed to convey basically a message to the public about the purpose, the scope and the responsibilities under this legislation. It recognizes that the public expects a high standard of public health and safety and the need for protection against threats to health and safety. It involves Yukoners in attaining these standards and gives them responsibility to act in the interests of public health and safety.
The amendments expand the scope of the regulations to encompass protection of the public from radiation emitted by devices commonly used in medical and other businesses. Earlier, when I said that the act itself required updating to deal with newer conditions or newer issues in the realm of public health, this was the kind of thing that we mean. As well, it also involves such things as setting standards for bottled water. I'm sure we've all heard of some of the problems that have arisen particularly in the Province of Quebec, particularly with contamination of bottled water. I think many people drink bottled water under some kind of assumption about its own purity, and somehow it is free from chemical additives. Currently, there are no standards for bottled water in the territory.
Surprisingly, for crematoriums, we will also be writing regulations concerning the qualifications that health officers must have.
These amendments will remove the authority for municipalities to appoint their own medical health officers. This is to ensure that there is an authority that has central control of this function. No municipality currently has its own medical health officer. Municipalities have been consulted on this amendment several times, and none has expressed concern about this amendment.
It's important to note, however, that municipalities will still have the authority to appoint their own health boards and health officers under this act, if they choose to do so. The process, both by the territory and by municipalities, has been clarified.
On fines, I took that comment to indicate that my colleague has more of a question about that, so perhaps I should expand a little more on this. Fines will be increased from a maximum of $500 to $5,000 per day, for each day that the offence occurs. The current fine simply is not high enough to deter offences, which may have a major impact on public health. In doing this, we are also moving into more of a consistency with other jurisdictions in Canada.
The enforcement powers will be revised to be in compliance with the Charter of Rights, giving due consideration to the protection of privacy of individuals. Right now, the investigation powers of government officials are too widespread under the present act. For example, it would be possible for someone who is doing an inspection of premises to not only inspect the premise, but also adjacent areas around there. Part of the goal in this will be to restrict the power of the inspection to those areas that have a direct dealing with the health issue. So, for example, if an individual had a restaurant, and they had dwellings attached to it or whatever, this would restrict the power of the person doing the investigation to the actual restaurant area, and they could not go into other areas, and it also restricts the hours at which the person can come in, so you can't just come in at any particular time. There is an attempt in this to make the legislation more consistent with the current Charter restrictions.
Just a little bit about some of the other issues involved in this - I can, if you like, go through a chronology of how this consultation on public health arrived. The actual working group began back in October of -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, of course. It began in October of 1994, and, as I said earlier, this group was composed of representatives from Whitehorse. Whitehorse in this case - because I know there will be some concerns about rural communities - was acting for the Association of Yukon Communities in this particular case. The senior environmental health officer, the director of community nursing, CYFN, medical health officers and the Health and Social Services officials, and, as well, Renewable Resources attended some of these meetings. Following that, there was some further consultations with the Department of Justice and with the RCMP on the issue of regulated matter.
In May and June of 1995, a Cabinet submission was prepared requesting approval to do a consultation paper. This was reviewed by the Women's Directorate, Land Claims, Community and Transportation Services, Renewable Resources, Economic Development, Finance, Justice and Government Services.
In July to October, the consultation paper was distributed to the following groups: environmental health services, medical services branch of Health Canada, the communicable disease unit, the Whitehorse Health Centre, Environment Canada, Customs and Excise Canada, all municipalities, all First Nations, CYFN, the Yukon Hospital Corporation, First Nations health committee, the Yukon Medical Association and Yukon Registered Nurses Association. As well, there was a public information campaign, with news releases, radio and print advertising, and copies of the document were made available in Whitehorse and other communities.
People were encouraged to contact the department - I have another few more pages here - if they wished to meet and discuss any issue. There were actually not too many responses received. Most of these were from individuals and most of them were related to some particular point in the regulations. They've been kept on file and will be considered as part of the review of regulations. There was one for the meeting held with the Yukon Registered Nurses Association.
Then, from January to April 1997, the Cabinet submission was prepared, requesting approval to draft the amendments. The submission was reviewed by policy review and then the letters were sent to all First Nations, CYFN and all municipalities, outlining the major points of these amendments. We didn't receive any comments back from any of these groups.
A meeting was also held with the City of Whitehorse official on the issue of revoking pro-municipal authority to appoint medical health officers. I think it's important to note that the City of Whitehorse official was in full agreement with this. The Cabinet submission was approved in April and the drafting instructions were sent to Justice.
In October 1997, at the request of the department, the Association of Yukon Communities was sent a final letter to all municipalities asking for comments on this one issue of revoking municipal authority to appoint medical health officers. No comments were received.
So, we attempted to find out if there were any remaining concerns from municipalities on this one particular issue, because we felt this might be a major one with him. Over the course of the review, Renewable Resources, Community and Transportation Services, Finance and Justice have provided comments on various issues and various aspects of this.
I would be pleased to discuss some of these points in greater detail when we go line by line and I invite comments from the opposition on this that we could consider.
Mr. Jenkins: We go from one extreme to the other as to the background and the information, and I'd like to thank the minister for supplying so much detailed information on such an act as we have before us.
Our party is in support of this Act to Amend the Public Health Act. There are a couple of areas that we do have concerns with and the minister did allude to them. Each municipality is a health district. I was wondering how the minister was going to address the issue of the surrounding areas around the municipalities and the First Nations - how they were all to plug into this health district.
It seems to me that with the number of people resident here in the Yukon and the municipalities that we have, it gives rise to this question: do we need to be that specific or that detailed as to have a health district for every municipality? It seems to me that we could probably, for quite some time, have one health district for all Yukon. Judging from the response on this issue from the members in the Association of Yukon Communities, it's an area that is covered off and has been well covered off by federal enforcement people, although from time to time there has been kind of an overlap with jurisdictions as to who takes responsibility for what area.
It also gives rise to the concern about downloading of responsibility to the municipalities. Ultimately, they could be charged with the responsibility of the enforcement, if they take it on, which has a costly side to it. What we have right now is a regular inspection of food preparation and service outlets, and as long as these take place in the normal course of business operating hours, it's probably better if they continue to remain unscheduled. If they continue to remain randomly done, it usually provides a higher, consistent level of cleanliness and neatness in the food preparation industry, and it's a constant reminder that an inspection can come at any time. If you know exactly when that inspection's going to occur, there is a tendency to rush and clean up for that occasion and then the situation does deteriorate somewhat.
So, I would urge the minister to continue with random inspections during the normal course of business operating hours and not just keep it specific to the food preparation area and the food service area. Our grocery stores do a lot of food prep, and the butcher stores along side of them, and then the small bakeries that buy the frozen dough and allow that to rise in an area and then bake that and deliver it. All of these areas can become contaminated if proper procedures are not followed. I would think it would be best for Yukon if we had one central authority in this regard for all of Yukon. It has served us well in the past with a couple of officers doing the inspections.
With respect to water, I'm somewhat intrigued with the ministers statement that bottled water is not covered. If it's imported into the Yukon, it has to meet certain standards, and all municipal governments have to conform to the Canadian drinking water standards: that's a condition of the water licences that are issued to all of the respected municipalities that have potable-water distribution or piped-water distribution systems. So, I can't see where the problem would be other than some of the bottled water suppliers will not want to see any amount of chlorine entered into it, which was one of the conditions of meeting the Canadian drinking water standards, Mr. Speaker.
We don't have any quarrel with any of the other parts. It seems to be a straightforward amendment to the Public Health Act, and we look forward to the surrounding legislation that will assist the enforcement of this act and the transfer responsibilities from the federal department to the Government of Yukon.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, generally, of course, it is always good to see an update in legislation. It would be even more excellent if we were to regularly look through our legislation and update it.
Now, the title has been changed from Public Health Act to the Public Health and Safety Act, and this seems to infer a change in mandate and perhaps a much larger mandate. How does this minister define safety and what does this change mean?
In addition to that, we talk about threats to public safety throughout the act. A stronger definition of a threat to public safety - winter could be that to public safety, especially in the Yukon - it could definitely be a threat to public safety.
Now, when you also change from public health to public health and safety, you are starting to get into another realm, and part of that realm is construction. If construction is part of this, for example structural integrity of a building, what is the training for the public health officer in this area? And, what sort of expertise does he have, is that responsibility given to another? Would that be the normal operating practice, or is that going to be part of the regs? That sort of information would be useful to have.
You know, of course, what sort of credentials would you expect for the person that's going to be inspecting?
In addition to that, what sort of consultation happened with the public safety branch? Were they part of this - and the occupational health and safety branch, the fire inspections, building inspections - and basically, how did they input into this process in the development of this bill?
Finally, it's also vague when you're talking about delegating authority from the public health officer down to other people, I guess, or positions. It's very vague, and I want to know a little bit more detail on whether or not that was going to come out in the regs - that ability to transfer authority. How does that happen, et cetera, et cetera. Also a time line on the development of regulations and any further consultation that happens in that process would be useful for further discussion.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to rise in support of this bill. Those of us who represent rural ridings know all too well that issues of public health and safety are ones where it's important to have current legislation and to have effectively enforced legislation.
These amendments to the legislation will cover the public health and safety aspects of sewage disposal, water sources and food premises. I know too well that there are many places in the rural areas, and particularly where homeowners may buy a property that has not had an adequate sewage system put in, and this can be very expensive and also a serious threat to health for those residents.
So, I'm pleased to support this bill, Mr. Speaker, and I'm glad that the member is also bringing forward the safety issues, which could have an adverse effect on the health of the public. Thank you.
Speaker: If a member now speaks, he will close debate. Do other members wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm underwhelmed by the enthusiasm, Mr. Speaker. I will try to answer a few of the questions, but there are some that I'll have to get some further clarification on and address those in line by line.
With regard to the question of regions that the Member for Klondike raised, I don't think there is really an attempt to set up public health regions. As the member has indicated, we've done quite well with one. I think the only thing we're attempting to do in that is to set out at least some avenues for, say, a jurisdiction such as Whitehorse. If they chose to move into that sort of realm, they could do it.
With regard to the inspection, I don't think I was probably as clear as what I would have liked to have been on that, and perhaps maybe I should just address that a little bit more. Right now, the act, as it stands, provides some fairly wide-sweeping, blanket inspection powers. This would allow a health officer to enter the premises for the purposes of enforcing the act. What the amendment does is to tighten this up somewhat because the entry is now restricted to areas of the premises that would be used by the public, or secondary areas, as the member has indicated, for related purposes. So, for example, in a restaurant, it would be the public area of the restaurant, it would be the kitchen, it would perhaps involve the storage room, washrooms in the food premises, but it would not relate, perhaps, to, say, an owner's apartment in the same building. Further, the time of entry - I don't mean the actual -
Oh, where was I? Oh, gosh, I have to go right back and start over again.
The time of entry would be restricted to the time during which the premises are open to the public, or at a time with the consent of the operator or when the officer believes that there's an immediate threat to public health or safety. So that does not preclude random inspections. Basically what it does is it says, okay, you can't come in at midnight to do an inspection. It has to be at particular times when either the premises are open or you have some consent.
The reason that this amendment has come forward to sort of set out these conditions is it helps ensure that the privacy of the individual is respected wherever possible, and this is in keeping with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and recent case law on the protection of privacy. So, it was felt that we had to move this into congruence with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Member for Riverdale South raised some issues here with regard to the various roles of health officers and government officials. I'll get some further clarification on that. As well, there were some other issues which arose in terms of - I'm just trying to go back; I made some notes here. I'll just have to go back and probably address those at a later date as we go through line by line. Okay, I've made some notes here but I'd be loathe to get into doing too much just on my feet. I will do some clarification on these points that the member has asked for some clarification on and will bring it back.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 43 agreed to
Bill No. 40: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 40, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that Bill No. 40, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board that Bill No. 40, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Harding: This bill amends the Workers' Compensation Act to provide coverage for volunteers under the act in the event of an accident related to their volunteer activities. Before I go into details on the amendment, I want to provide this House with some background on why changes to the act are necessary.
Prior to the introduction of the new Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Act in 1992, volunteers were covered by board order on a cost recovery basis, That is, if a volunteer received benefits from the Workers' Compensation Board as a result of an accidental injury, the government would repay those expenses to the board, along with a 10 percent administration fee.
After the new act was introduced, the Yukon government had begun work on a regulation pursuant to the act to provide the necessary coverage for non-paid volunteers. Instead, the board agreed to address the issue through a new board order, 1993.01, similar to the order that existed under the old act. In February 1995, the board revoked order 1993.01 with the result that all non-paid volunteers became ineligible for benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act and volunteers were left with no coverage.
Who are these volunteers you may ask. They are people who volunteer to perform a wide range of activities with several departments. Let me give you a few examples. A volunteer is someone who is called upon by the Emergency Measures Organization in the event of a disaster occurring. A person acting on behalf of the government under the deputy conservation officer program that is administered by the Department of Renewable Resources is a volunteer. A volunteer includes a parent who assists a teacher with a class outing once a year, as well as someone who regularly assists staff with elderly patients at Macaulay Lodge. Inmates at the Whitehorse and Teslin correctional facilities who perform community services are also, for the purposes of this act, deemed to be volunteers. They're in your neighbourhood.
In November 1996, Cabinet reviewed the issue of volunteer coverage. The Department of Government Services was astonished and provided an interim solution by purchasing, in January 1997, commercial accident insurance for all categories of volunteers until such time as a long-term solution can be found and implemented.
As the minister responsible for the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, I undertook to investigate a long-term solution to the issue of volunteer coverage. The amendment before you provides volunteers with enhanced coverage in the event of an accident. These changes ensure that there are medical and financial benefits for volunteers by covering them under the act. It also protects the government from legal action by an injured volunteer. It is an effective solution that provides certainty of coverage for both volunteers and the Yukon government and does not detract from the account or the position, financially, of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Heath and Safety Board, which is funded by employers and provides the benefit of insurance for them and the benefit of compensation for workers.
I have advised the board of the amendment, and they concur to proceed with these changes to the Workers' Compensation Act. They are in support of the provision.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, our party is in support of the amendments to the act as proposed. We do have some concerns and questions about various points, and in general, perhaps the minister, in his response, can satisfy a number of these areas. When one looks at the change that is contemplated, any worker can be designated as workers by the government, and they're not employees of government, but the costs so incurred, plus a 15-percent administration charge for the coverage, is being borne by the government.
So, that leads us to a number of questions. Are all of the volunteer fire brigades in the Yukon going to be covered under this plan, or is it just going to be the rural fire brigades and forest firefighters? The ambulance brigades are pretty well all staffed by YTG-designated volunteers or paid, as in the case of Whitehorse, so we would assume that they would be covered, and we notice, with a great deal of support, that the coverage is extended to the RCMP auxiliary police. Would that also include First Nation police forces if the First Nations bring them forward in other areas of Yukon, other than just Whitehorse?
Going back to the premiums or the costs that the government will incur, could the minister advise where these dollars are being budgeted for and what they anticipate these costs will be? They must have an idea as some of this is going to be retroactive.
Under the existing legislation, if someone is paid out for a disability, the payout presently is one half the maximum of the insurable earnings for Yukon, which is presently about $50,000 per annum, and I was wondering what the minister's position on that payout is. There have been occasions in the area that I am from where this has been sought for members of our volunteer fire department in our community, and their coverage was contentious for a while, and it was pretty hard to hammer down.
It finally came out that, yes, they were covered, and they would continue to be covered, even though they were volunteers. We've been in and out of a system, and I'm pleased to see that the system is being clarified and regulated, and that all these volunteers in the various classes, especially the high risk classes of volunteers, will be covered in the future.
Mr. Cable: We, too, will be supporting the bill. There are some information questions that would be useful. As the previous member just asked, it would be useful to find out from the Workers' Compensation Board, if the minister has not done so already, what the exposure is to this sort of additional insurance and, if it's significant, whether this will require a premium increase at some juncture.
Subsection 2 of this new 4.1 talks about the Commissioner in Executive Council prescribing any other persons or class of persons carrying on undertakings. It would be useful to hear from the minister whether he proposes to do that by way of regulation or just how the designation will take place.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I rise in support of the amendments to the Yukon Workers' Compensation Act to ensure that volunteers will now be covered. I believe that the previous speaker is aware of the damages of not having any coverage for volunteers. The Yukon sees benefit from the work of hundreds of volunteers in the school system every year. Whether they're reading to students during library time or coming along on field trips, they are an important group of volunteers. Many of them have asked about workers' compensation coverage, and I know that they'll be relieved that this coverage will now be extended to them.
As well, the auxiliary police members are unpaid volunteers who perform a number of functions in the areas of crime prevention and community education. Their activities have included coordinating crime prevention fairs, snowmobile safety campaigns and crowd control.
The extension of coverage to volunteers provides certainty for both volunteers and the Yukon government, and is a wise move.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I just wanted to take a couple of moments to speak on this.
Shortly after we became government, I became aware of the lack of insurance coverage for volunteers, and I have to say that I was quite alarmed. I would dare say that I was even more alarmed than my colleague representing the Workers' Compensation Board. Because of this, we decided to move toward bringing about some changes in this regard.
Government Services, through its risk management branch, did manage to find an insurance agent to provide commercial accident insurance for volunteers, but it was only until this issue could be resolved.
I was so alarmed - much moreso than the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board - that I felt that we, Government Services, had to act quickly in this regard.
So, Mr. Speaker, I'd just like to talk a little bit about this because, as a teacher and principal, once again I find myself referring to this. My experience with volunteers in the school has been that these folks are absolutely essential. The variety of services they provide in schools includes everything from reading groups with elementary students to chaperoning dances - and there's a thankless task if I ever saw one - to the folks that get together for cut-and-paste groups to coaching teams, from driving kids to swimming, to supervising field day activities. All these things would be very, very difficult, if not impossible, if it weren't for the support of volunteers.
I think even moreso, and I probably speak for my colleague from Laberge here, the volunteers provide, certainly within the education system, a valuable connection - a link between school and home. Studies have shown that students whose parents volunteer at school do considerably better. I guess particularly in terms of math marks, that would probably interest the Member for Riverdale North.
So, I think the whole question of volunteerism goes far beyond just dollars saved in terms of salaries for additional personnel. I think we can't stress enough the importance of volunteers in our education system.
As well, the health and social services programs are very dependent upon volunteers. The Thomson Centre, the hospital - hospitals, because they are also in rural communities - Macaulay Lodge, McDonald Lodge in Dawson, I think, all benefit from people volunteering to help seniors and individuals with such things as shopping, writing letters, attending activities of any kind. When we have our Handy Bus go out, we have volunteers travel along with them, and I think volunteers truly enrich the lives of people throughout institutions such as this. Group homes. The volunteers are everywhere that we require social services. And, quite frankly, I think a lot of the services provided by the community and the government wouldn't be possible to run without volunteers. The Member for Klondike has alluded to probably one of the most important roles of volunteers in this territory, and that is the question of providing emergency services such as volunteer fire departments. Outlying areas such as Golden Horn benefit from this. So many small Yukon communities are so dependent on volunteer fire departments.
I think we've got a moral obligation to provide protection to these volunteers. Some of these volunteers do tasks that perhaps initially might not appear to be particularly dangerous but they certainly are. An individual who is working in a hospital, helping turn a patient in a bed, could, for example, experience back strain or a back injury. So I think we have to recognize that all volunteers, no matter what their role, entertain a certain amount of risk and we have an obligation to protect these folks and to value their contribution to the life of the Yukon. If anything, by doing this we are taking the opportunity to make a tangible thank you to all volunteers that make our territory a much better place in which to live.
To all those people who enrich other peoples' lives and often receive very little recognition in return. So, I would like to encourage all members to support this bill.
Mr. Hardy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I couldn't resist but to rise and talk about volunteers because I would expect everyone in this room has been a volunteer at some time in their life, in the communities or in Whitehorse, and we've all contributed to our community to make it a richer place for people, and we all know volunteers.
This is a recognition, in some ways, of the value of a volunteer. Often being a volunteer you take on tasks that are not necessarily the most pleasant tasks. And, sometimes they can be life threatening - volunteer firefighters are an example. Sometimes they can be abusive in the care of people who may need assistance, are angry and they take it out on the volunteer.
So, to do that it is nice knowledge to know that when you volunteer that you do have some coverage if you do get injured or you get hurt while you are volunteering. What the minister said was, who are these volunteers? Well, look around the community, look around Whitehorse, look throughout the Yukon. Many people that have come up here have said the Yukon is a wonderful place to live because of the amount that people volunteer and the commitment people put into making their communities work - the society work.
And so, this Bill No. 40, the amendment, really does address the major concern for those people that are giving up their time to help the society function better and I'm glad to see it go forward, and I believe it's going to send a good message to all people in the Yukon that they are all valued and that there are safeguards for them.
Mr. Livingston: Well, the Minister of Health has already spoken on my behalf so I won't go on at great length. But, I would just like to make a couple remarks about the value of volunteers, and I guess particularly the value of volunteers working with our youth and working in our public institutions like schools, because I think that the volunteers add a great deal to the life of a school and provide connections between home and our schools and other public institutions, like Macaulay Lodge - having musicians going to Macaulay Lodge, and so on - provides that human touch to those kinds of public institutions in a way that only volunteers do.
People that volunteer their time and their blood and their sweat and their tears, if you like, to those kinds of roles have a special kind of a contribution to make, and what this amendment does is to provide them with some protection and provide some protection to the institutions for which they're volunteering. Volunteers really are that link, that kind of special partnership that provides that link between citizens and the institutions they serve in a variety of ways.
So, lots of things have been said about volunteers. I won't read it all into the record again, Mr. Speaker, but I'm pleased to see this amendment coming forward.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike raised some concerns in his comments on second reading. He mentioned a couple of specifics of the rural firefighter. Yes, they'd be covered. He mentioned ambulance assistants in rural communities; they'd be covered. First Nations policing would not be covered by this bill, as they are not under the control of YTG.
With regard to the reference to premiums by the Member for Klondike, there are no premiums. There is no budget for this. There was no budget for the contingent liabilities that we were exposed to under the time when there was absolutely no insurance available for us. The reason for that is that we have not had a claim in some years. We have not had any draw-down, in terms of the volunteers looking for coverage, in some time, and in terms of exposure, when we were really exposed was when we didn't have this provision. Right now it's a straight flow-through with the Workers' Compensation Board if there is an occurrence of some kind of an accident that would require compensability, so it isn't budgeted for in the sense that we feel we have significant exposure.
Actually, we believe the reverse is true. We've limited the exposure considerably from where we were with the insurance that we had arranged by Government Services, and prior to that we had no insurance whatsoever, so we had open liability, which would have obviously been subject to some court action had there been any work-related, compensable injury.
The member mentioned retroactivity as well, and retroactive payments. It will be our policy to pay, as I understand it, those who were covered under old auspices, or old policies as they always have been paid. This would only apply to people in the future, so retroactivity is not an issue, as I see it.
Categories for the volunteers are very broad in terms of designations. The bill is quite all-encompassing in terms of the different kinds of volunteers. So, there is a catch-all clause for situations that arise in the future for the government to deem others volunteers. However, we believe that what has been indicated in the bill should be appropriate, given the extensive look we've had at the situation and the volunteer situation in the territory.
I would like to thank Government Services and the PSC for the work that they did on this particular bill. So, with that, I hope for all members' support on this giant step forward for the Yukon.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 40 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:00 p.m.