In October 2013, I re-tabled my private member’s bill, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (Bill S-201). Genetic testing holds the promise of tremendous health benefits for Canadians, but fear of genetic discrimination – discrimination from insurance companies, employers or others because of one’s genes – is holding many Canadians back from genetic testing that may be medically beneficial. In Canada, unlike in many other countries around the world, once a person has a genetic test there is no specific law, at either the federal or provincial level, to protect against genetic discrimination. This bill would change that. There are many personal reasons why someone may decide not to have genetic testing, but concern about genetic discrimination should not be an issue.
Bill S-201 is now before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. On October 2, 2014, we heard compelling testimony from Dr. Ronald Cohn with the Hospital for Sick Kids and Dr. Yvonne Bombard from St. Michael’s Hospital. Both witnesses described the human costs associated with delaying genetic testing out of fear, and the potential impact on one’s family and future. The complete testimony is available here:
The summer of 2014 was busy for our Inuit leaders and I would like to thank them for their outstanding work. There are three events which I would like to highlight.
First, I would like to bring your attention to the Kitigaaryuit Declaration (articles 28, 29) as agreed to by the Inuit of Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Chukotka at the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) General Assembly July 2014 in Inuvik, NWT.
In this declaration, ICC made the formal commitment to:
28. Mandate ICC leadership to urge Arctic member states submitting positions on the extent of their respective continental shelves to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to involve Inuit in those submissions so as to reflect the Inuit perspective and protect Inuit rights and interests;
29. Instruct ICC leadership to engage in the UNCLOS processes to monitor developments to equip Inuit to promote and protect Inuit sovereignty and Inuit rights to the offshore, and take steps to participate in the decision-making of the bodies formed under the UNCLOS whose work has the potential to affect Inuit rights in the Arctic.
The sessions are online. Although all of the presentations were excellent, Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough in particular, made some comments specific to Canada’s UNCLOS submission, consent, international law, and land claims which may be of interest to you (Look for Day 2, part one (morning) and forward to the 44 minute mark).
Second, in June, Mr. Peter Hutchins and Mrs. Robin Campbell presented their paper, “Canada’s submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the Legal Protections for Inuit Rights to the Arctic Ocean” to the Canadian Bar Association Aboriginal Law Conference which was held in Iqaluit, NU. If you were unable to attend, the paper is available on the Senator’s website in English, French and Inuktitut: http://liberalsenateforum.ca/blog/arctic-sovereignty-part-five/. We also have copies in the office that we would be pleased to send you.
The third event is the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (UNWCIP) which wrapped up last week. Our Aboriginal leaders across the globe have been preparing for these high level meetings for the last four years. Because this is the first conference of its kind, there were undoubtedly some extra hurdles for them to overcome. Our delegates put a tremendous amount of energy and time into the process and it is good to know the people are working together.
Seventy years ago, thousands of Canadian soldiers landed on the French shore amid a sea of flames to help liberate Europe and restore democracy.
On June 6 and 7, 2014, 1,800 veterans and some 20 heads of state and government gathered to honour the memory of those soldiers at ceremonies marking the march toward peace and freedom. As President of the Canada-France Interparliamentary Association, I was invited to Ouistreham by France’s President François Hollande to express Canadians’ respect and admiration for those whose dedication led them to make the supreme sacrifice.
Many Canadian veterans, the keepers of our memory, were also in attendance at the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in Cintheaux to salute the bravery and sacrifice of their fellow soldiers, the anonymous heroes who fell during the battle of Normandy. I was pleased and proud to have been there with our veterans to pay my respects to the great-grandfathers, grandfathers and fathers to whom our country owes a lasting debt of gratitude.
Among the Canadian veterans at the ceremony were Franco-Albertan Paul Maisonneuve, age 95, and Edmonton native Ernest Côté, age 101. Their recollections of those historic days and their journey are lessons in courage and a source of inspiration to all Canadians who want to make the world a better place. Who are these men whose commitment is an example to future generations and must never be forgotten?
From left to right: Liliane Maisonneuve, Senator Tardif, veteran Paul Maisonneuve
Paul Maisonneuve was born in the Falher region and was deployed to Europe with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. In 1943, he was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade (1st Division), where he worked on codes and cyphers until being transferred shortly before D-day to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division as a member of the Royal Canadian Army Signal Corps. In June 2014, the French government awarded Mr. Maisonneuve the prestigious Legion of Honour for his efforts during the Second World War.
Senator Tardif with Ernest Côté
Ernest Côté is a descendent of the early Franco-Albertan settlers. He served in the Royal 22nd Regiment as a platoon commander. In June 1944, he was in charge of logistics for the 3rd Canadian Division, which was composed of close to 20,000 volunteers participating in the Normandy Landing. Stationed in England, he was one of a select group of people directly responsible for planning the invasion.
In closing, my trip to France also highlighted the importance of parliamentary diplomacy, the relationship between Canadian and French parliamentarians, and the value of the personal relationships that I have developed with many French senators and members.
Senator Tardif with US Secretary of State John Kerry and French MP Catherine Coutelle
In December 2013, Canada made its submission to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Canada failed to include any reference to Inuit rights to the Arctic.
As countries race for control of the seas located closest to their borders, they have forgotten that northern seas are populated by northern people. Inuit live in the Arctic – on the ice, on the land and on the water. We have always lived here and we have no plans of leaving.
The growing interest of the international community in our territory is fueled by the wealth of natural resources which lay beneath the Arctic ice and water. In this rush to claim the Arctic, the rights of the people who live there are ignored.
As Canadian Inuit we must stand together and we must support each other across the circumpolar world. Our rights to the northern territory exist in the areas of our traditional land use and occupancy; in some places this is well beyond the 200 mile limit, and beyond the limits claimed by the Canadian government at the United Nations.
As the only Inuk Senator in Canada, I am posting this report online so you can read the arguments and I look forward to hearing from you on this issue.
The Supreme Court of Canada today confirmed what Senate Liberals have been saying since 2007 about Mr Harper’s proposed changes to the Senate. At that time the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, after receiving the opinions of constitutional experts and provincial governments, recommended that the Government seek guidance from the Supreme Court to ensure that the provisions in the Constitution with respect to constitutional change were followed. The Government refused and did not do so until six years later, in 2013 – when Mr. Harper’s failure to deliver on his promise of Senate reform was becoming a political problem.
Stephen Harper has been in power for 8 years, and we are no further ahead on Senate reform than on the day he took office. I have said before and continue to believe that had the Government acted on our recommendation sooner, Senate reform could have been far advanced in this country by now.
As the Court confirmed today, changes to the Senate which would alter its fundamental characteristics cannot be made solely by Act of Parliament – they require consultation with the provinces and depending on the degree of change, either agreement of all provinces or at least 7 provinces representing 50% of the population.
That is in the Constitution – and it reflects both our history and our present reality as a federation. A Senate providing equality of regional representation was an essential component of the Confederation bargain, without which the provinces would not have come together to form our federation. And the provinces have been very clear that they want their voices heard on Senate reform.
Yet this Prime Minister refuses to sit down and come to a consensus with the provinces, our constitutional partners. He would rather go before the Supreme Court – a not inexpensive option, by the way – than sit down with his elected counterparts in the provinces at a First Ministers meeting. And after all that – after 8 years of tabling bills then left to languish on the Order Paper, of arguing cases before the Quebec Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada, today the Supreme Court has been clear: As the leader of the federal government, if Mr. Harper is serious about his proposed reforms of the Senate, he is going to have to sit down with his provincial counterparts. Or else all his talk will be revealed as just that: talk, but no action.
Constitutional change is serious business and should not be undertaken lightly. Canadians have the right to expect that their political leaders will respect the Constitution. I appreciate that First Ministers meetings can be challenging – but Canadians expect their Prime Minister to be able to rise to such challenges, particularly if necessary to fulfil his promises. Mr. Harper should not have promised change if he was not prepared to do the work needed to achieve it.
So now that the Supreme Court has settled the constitutional thresholds which must be met for various Senate “reforms”, the Government must make some hard decisions about what to do next.
For our part, the Senate Liberal Caucus will carefully examine the government proposals and listen to the views of experts and other Canadians who wish to express their opinions on the subject. These issues cannot be dealt with solely on Parliament Hill, and should not be dealt with through secret negotiations behind closed doors.
But just as we should not have had to wait 8 years for this decision, so Canadians should not have to wait to see the Senate function as it was intended. The primary role of the Senate is to review legislation – to act as a chamber of “sober second thought”. To do this properly Senators must be prepared to think and act independently of their colleagues in the House of Commons, even when they belong to the same political party. The Senate is a political institution and Senators are politicians but they must not slavishly toe “the party line”. This is particularly important when the same party holds a majority in both houses as is the case at present.
Since January 29, Liberal Senators have not been a part of the National Liberal Caucus, which is now composed solely of elected members of the House of Commons. The Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada provides no direction or advice to us and we are not bound in any way by the actions of Liberal members of the House of Commons. These developments enable us to do our part to make the Senate function more independently – insofar as it is within our power as a minority in the Senate. We have urged our Conservative colleagues to assert a similar degree of independence. Acting together, we could do a great deal to restore a proper balance between the two Houses – without the necessity of amending the Constitution in any way.
Now that the Supreme Court has clarified the rules which would govern various changes to the Senate, the Government needs to tell Canadians what it now has in mind so that an honest and serious debate can begin.
But to be clear, neither term limits nor even elections will make the Senate work as an effective house of independent sober second thought unless its members are free to exercise that independence.