Senator Plett Speaks to the Second Reading of Bill C-28

Honourable senators, it is so good to see that, depending on whether it suits our purposes or not, our principles about leave as well as other things can change as they need to. We certainly appreciate that.

Not to put a damper on anything, but I have about a 75-minute speech here, so that puts us to what time? Sorry, colleagues, the rest of you may not be able to speak. You may as well go home, and Senator Gold and I will take care of the rest of the business.

I was reminded by my lovely wife today that I made a mistake earlier when I said that I had voted with Senator Gold. She said that I was supposed to remind him that, in fact, Senator Gold had voted with the opposition in the last vote, and not the opposition voting with him. I want that corrected for the record, please. Senator Gold, we appreciate that you voted with us.

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-28, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (self-induced extreme intoxication). I have already said that I will support this bill. I am going to spend at least 10 minutes telling you why I shouldn’t. Then I will turn myself into a pretzel, like those who give leave one day and then don’t the next, and vote for something that I will be telling you for 10 minutes that we shouldn’t ever support.

This bill purportedly responds to the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada in Brown and Sullivan last month, which found that section 33.1 of the Criminal Code was unconstitutional. The ruling by the Supreme Court came down on May 13, 2022. We heard nothing from the government on this matter for five weeks. I think the Prime Minister was on an airplane.

Suddenly, the bill was tabled just before the end of the session on June 17. No debate was scheduled on the bill for four full days, colleagues.

Then we were told that the bill we have before us, Bill C-28, must not only be adopted in extreme haste, but must essentially be adopted with no substantive legislative review at all. This, of course, is what our friend and colleague Senator Patterson was concerned about earlier today.

Honourable senators, for five weeks we heard absolutely nothing and then suddenly, as is customary with this government, panic set in. The government claims that in the five weeks from the court decision to last week, it was busily consulting on this bill. It claims that since the court rendered its decision it has consulted with about 30 groups. That is quite a large number.

Minister Lametti claimed, during our brief meeting in Committee of the Whole with him this week, that these groups almost unanimously approve of the government’s response to this bill. This is surprising, colleagues, on several levels.

First, it is surprising that the government was able to consult in a fulsome way with 30 groups in just one month, but that is what they say they did.

On other bills, this appears to have been completely beyond the government’s capacity. Just this past Monday, the Senate passed Bill S-7, which was also a government response to a court ruling from October 2020. Bill S-7 was introduced in response to a decision by the Court of Appeal of Alberta that struck down a section in the Customs Act. On that matter, the government was given 18 months by the court to introduce legislation in response to its ruling. Yet not only was that deadline missed but, as senators found out when the bill was studied at committee, the government had actually consulted with absolutely no one prior to introducing the bill. That was an extremely complex bill involving extremely complex legal issues.

Now we have this bill, which also deals with an extremely complex legal issue. Yet, if we are to take the minister’s word for it, in just one month the government was able to fulsomely consult with groups that unanimously approved the government’s course of action.

Honourable senators, I have to say that this stretches the imagination. I believe there is another explanation as to why the government took so long to introduce this legislation. It is quite simply due to the fact that its priorities are elsewhere. This is not a government that pays a great deal of attention to policy details. It throws borrowed money at problems and does not pay much attention to how money is spent.

It makes you wonder, colleagues, how there could be those of us — or you — who voted an hour ago for a completely out‑of‑control budget. There are even those who call themselves conservatives who voted for it. I find it extremely strange that we have conservatives who voted for that — conservatives who ran on a platform of being a conservative. Yet here they are.

I am not sure how many of you listen to Simon & Garfunkel. I am of that age. As Simon & Garfunkel sang, “Heaven holds a place for those who pray.” So, conservative colleagues, there is hope for you if you repent. A few years ago, Chuck Cadman promised to keep the Paul Martin government alive. After he voted he said that he then had to go and ask God for forgiveness. God forgave him, and he will forgive you.

And this government does a lot of signalling and proclaiming colleagues. I am sure that in relation to this decision by the Supreme Court, someone saw a potential political opportunity. It was an opportunity to look decisive. I do not intend to speak very much about the substance of the bill, as you may have already realized. That is better left to others. Senator Patterson has a lot more to say about that. But I do note that many senators in this chamber have, in only a short time, raised some very significant issues.

Senator Carignan referenced a learned professor at the University of Montreal, one who specializes in criminal defence who argues certain dimensions of extreme intoxication may not be covered by this bill at all. On Tuesday, Senator Cotter said:

. . . what I worry about here is that the proposal, as heartfelt as it is, will miss the mark and almost nobody will be able to be convicted under this provision.

Senator Cotter and I did not start off on the best of terms, but I certainly have come to respect the tremendous knowledge that he has and the expertise that he brings to the Legal Committee, and I respect that quote.

Senator Pate quoted Sean Fagan, counsel for the defence in the case in question, when she said, “. . . the law would be entirely ineffective due to the burden placed on prosecutors.” I recognize informed concern and skepticism when I see it, and it is informed concern and, I’m sure, some skepticism, Senator Pate. This is why I’m so concerned about the way in which the government is attempting to frogmarch this bill through both the House and the Senate, and even that it is doing so badly.

On Tuesday, the government’s vaunted hybrid system crashed. We all know that. We shut down here because we could no longer operate. Fortunately, our Leader of the Government has not to this point suggested that we continue with this horrible system of hybrid since. I have the fullest confidence in him that he will not come forward with that. I want it in Hansard that I trust Senator Gold that he will not bring this forward.

But the government’s House leader, Mark Holland, wants and was just given another year of this system that has already failed us so many times. Why? Because he says there might be another pandemic coming, honourable senators. There just might be. Dr. Ravalia, have you heard of a pandemic that is coming?

There is the science. There is no pandemic coming. And yet, Mark Holland says we need to have another hybrid year so that we can all stay home and do whatever we do from home. If we are honest, this new approach where people have to be in Parliament less and less is the government’s more important priority nowadays. That, honourable senators, is sad. Hybrid is obviously popular with both Liberal and NDP caucuses — but none of us here are in the Liberal or NDP caucuses, are we? I do not think so. We are all independents. We voted independent. Oh, no, we all voted in favour. Well, we did not all vote, but a lot of us voted in favour of an NDP-Liberal budget just a few minutes ago.

Nevertheless, it is popular for the same reason that it is popular with many in this chamber. One can sit at home, look into the camera for a few hours, read a couple of questions and pretend that one is a great servant of the public. It is clear who wins from hybrid sessions: parliamentarians. Parliamentarians who, quite frankly, do not want to show up for work.

I said today that when a person says, “with all due respect,” they are probably going to say something disrespectful. Senator Moncion remembers when I said it. And I do want to respect every senator here. I really do. And I do respect every senator here, but I do not believe that this is the way to conduct parliamentary business.

It is clear who wins from hybrid sessions, but Canadians, who are counting on us to undertake serious reviews of government legislation, lose. That is what we are seeing in relation to this very bill, Bill C-28. Even for this government, the process of Bill C-28 sinks to a new low. What the process around Bill C-28 illustrates is that of a government in chaos. In the face of multiple challenges that now confront our country, both domestically and internationally, we have a government consistently focusing on the wrong priorities.

Not only are its priorities wrong, it executes them badly. Look at Bill C-11. It turned into a complete fiasco in the House of Commons, and that happened for a second time, with the government having learned absolutely nothing from the fiasco that surrounded the previous Bill C-10. Consider Bill S-7, which we passed in this chamber earlier this week but only after it had to be virtually rewritten by the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Then, we have the pending fiasco on Bill C-21, which is nothing more than a gratuitous attack on lawful sport shooters, even as gun crime in our cities continues to rise. Then we see what the Prime Minister and Minister Blair did with the Commissioner of the RCMP just to promote that legislation.

Honourable senators, the list goes on and on. In all of this mismanagement, it is Canadians who end up losing. Canadians, honourable senators, deserve so much better. We owe Canadians so much more. I only hope and trust that very soon they will have a competent government, and I will not blow our horn any more — I did that before dinner — but I truly hope that we will have a competent government that finally and actually puts Canadians first.

Honourable senators, that has not been done by this government. It does not matter how you put it. It does not matter what caucus you are from in this chamber. We have a government that has put themselves first, not Canadians. We need to turn that around. We need to approve Bill C-28 today. Why? Not because of this government, not because of their competence, not even because this is a good bill; but as has been said by others, it is a bill that is a step in the right direction. It is a bill that protects women, girls and children from heinous crimes that we have talked about over and over again.

That, honourable senators, is why at the end of tonight, whether we like it, whether we support this government — and I do not think that there is any illusion that I do — but this is a bill that I truly, honestly believe in my heart of hearts deserves unanimous consent. I hope you will support that tonight. Thank you.

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