Last week in the Senate: Gender equality, protecting Canadians’ privacy, enhancing our electoral system and modernizing the Criminal Code
Everyone benefits when we invest in women and girls. Gender equality is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but as a nation, Canada still has much work to do to realize this equality. For example, Canada had the 7th highest median income wage gap between women compared with men according to the OECD1 in 2016 and we ranked 12th on the United Nations Development Gender Inequality Index in 2017.
When Canada was made president of the G7 in 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau created the Gender Equality Advisory Council to examine gender inequality among member countries. The Council recently reported, “Gender inequality remains a pressing moral, economic and social issue.”
One way Canada is doing its part is by addressing gender inequality through the implementation of a government-wide analytical tool called Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+). GBA+ assesses how diverse groups of women, men and gender-diverse people may be effected by government policies, programs and initiatives. As well, GBA+ goes further to consider government initiatives through the lens of race, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability.
Here in the Senate, since its inception, this Chamber has provided in-depth studies on how legislation influences the rights of vulnerable Canadians. As this chamber comes ever closer to achieving a gender balance among Senators themselves, we apply another lens that ensures that diversity and expertise both contribute to sober second thought to the benefit of all Canadians.
It was recently revealed that Statistics Canada is seeking the personal financial information of Canadians, without their prior knowledge or consent. Statistics Canada’s proposed “Personal Information Bank” would require nine of Canada’s largest banks and credit card companies to provide all banking transactions on 500,000 Canadians – including utility and mortgage payments, ATM withdrawals and account balances - all without their consent.
Shockingly, the Prime Minister defended this plan.
In March of this year, documents obtained through Access to Information showed 20 separate incidents of information and privacy breaches at Statistics Canada in 2016, including one that involved almost 600 First Nations residents.
In its cyber security report released on Monday, the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce noted that the Privacy Act does not require federal departments and agencies to report privacy breaches to the Privacy Commissioner.
One of the ten recommendations brought forward by the committee urges the “federal government [to] modernize Canada’s privacy legislation to take into account emerging cyber security concerns and international standards.” The report suggests empowering the Office of the Privacy Commissioner with needed resources to impose fines against those that don’t take adequate measure to protect customers’ personal information.
It is my hope that the government takes the committee’s recommendations under serious consideration to secure the privacy of all Canadians.
Last week I was pleased to introduce Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act, a generational overhaul of the Canada Elections Act that will bring Canadian federal elections into the modern age. The bill has four central objectives: to make the electoral process more transparent; to make the electoral process more accessible; to modernize the administration of federal elections; and to make the electoral process more secure.
The bill addresses concerns about the role of money in politics generally, and in elections specifically. I firmly believe that elections should be a fair contest of ideas and about which party has the policy ideas that inspire and instill confidence in Canadians, not a contest about which party has the deepest pockets.
Bill C-76 also provides for some important mechanisms to protect our democracy. Canadians are concerned, and rightly so, about the potential impact of foreign influence on our country’s elections. The global landscape has changed dramatically since the last federal election. Stories of foreign spies, compromised social media accounts and leaked campaign materials have become the norm in democratic elections around the world. Tackling these problems is imperative, and the bill proposes various amendments that should help to reassure Canadians.
All in all, this legislation modernizes this democratic process for our current age. The electoral system will be more open to a greater number of Canadians while simultaneously being more secure. I look forward to this important bill moving expeditiously to committee, where it can be studied in greater detail.
This week, the Senate continued its study at third reading of Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act. The primary purpose of the bill is to ensure that Criminal Code provisions are consistent with current case law. The summary of the bill identifies four key objectives.
First, the bill amends the Criminal Code to amend, remove or repeal passages and provisions that have been ruled unconstitutional or that raise risks with regard to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For example, the bill amends s. 299 of the Criminal Code regarding defamatory libel to change an essential element of the offence. In R. v. Lucas,  1 SCR 439, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the current provision was unconstitutional because it was too vague and contravened the guarantee or freedom of expression.
Second, the bill amends passages and provisions that are obsolete, redundant or that no longer have a place in criminal law. For example, the bill repeals the offences for fighting duels (section 4 of the bill, amending s. 71 of the Criminal Code) and practising witchcraft or sorcery (section 41 of the bill, amending s. 365 of the Criminal Code).
Third, it also modifies certain provisions of the Code relating to sexual assault in order to clarify their application and to provide a procedure applicable to the admissibility and use of a complainant’s record when in the possession of the accused.
Finally, this bill amends the Department of Justice Act to require that the Minister of Justice cause to be tabled, for every government bill, a statement of the bill’s potential effects on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter.