Peter Watts: Action on the Hill

As a new week begins, there are a lot of reasons to keep an eye on what is happening on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Bill C-49, the Transportation Act, is through the Senate and is on its way back to the House of Commons, where MPs will vote on amendments proposed by senators.  This bill has a number of components, including a passengers’ bill of rights.  It also deals with regulation and direction of the railways with respect to the movement of commodities, including grain.  That’s been the subject of a lot of debate this winter.

“We can’t have 40 ships sitting off the port of Vancouver, waiting to come to the dock for grain that hasn’t yet been delivered by the railways,” federal agriculture minister, Lawrence MacAulay, told me.

Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, is presently in committee in the Senate.  Senators are to vote on the bill on June 7th.  The federal government had hoped to have the legislation in place by Canada Day, July 1st.  That’s unlikely to happen.  A lot of senators are taking up the concerns of medical authorities, chiefs of police, and others who suggest that a lot of work needs to be done before the recreational use of marijuana can, or should, be legalized.

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Then there’s Bill C-75, introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday by the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould.  This bill, which runs to about 300 pages, details changes to a number of existing laws.  It also deals with a Supreme Court mandate to eliminate court delays.  More than 200 charges have been dismissed as a result of that Supreme Court ruling last September.

The bill will deal with such topics as intimate partner violence and the use of peremptory challenges, which allows lawyers to reject jury candidates during the selection process.  This last point grew out of the exclusion of visibly Indigenous people from the jury that acquitted Saskatchewan farmer, Gerald Stanley, in the shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie of the Red Pheasant First Nation.

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Nowhere in the bill is there any specific reference to rural crime, something that is coming more and more to the attention of a number of members of Parliament.  Three Conservative MPs, including Shannon Stubbs from Alberta Lakeland, have put a motion before the House of Commons calling for a committee to look at the problem and come up with some solutions.

“We’ve introduced M-167 in the House and it’s to come back for more debate, likely late in April,” she told me. “I don’t know if we can get the House committee to look at the problem.  I do know it’s a serious problem, not just in my riding but in rural ridings across the country.  It needs to be addressed and it needs some out-of-the-box thinking if we’re going to find some solutions.”

The debate on C-75 hasn’t even started yet, at least not in the House of Commons.  It will be months before this bill is ready for final approval.  I dare say it will be a major topic of discussion from meetings of the Canadian Bar Association to the summer barbecue circuit.

“Canadians deserve to have a well-functioning criminal justice system that protects the vulnerable, meets the needs of victims and keeps our communities safe,” Wilson-Raybould told reporters as she unveiled the proposed legislation.  Those are all good points for all of us to keep in mind as the debate on C-75 begins.

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