Crime bill changes expected to be made in Senate

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler said he expects the government to amend its crime bill legislation in the Senate, after it failed to make changes in the House of Commons this week.

Liberal changes rejected at committee resurfaced as government amendments at report stage

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, in the House of Commons on Wednesday, wants the government's omnibus crime legislation, Bill C-10, to pass quickly. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Conservatives aren't interested in recalling the justice committee to reform its omnibus crime bill and will likely try and do it in the Senate, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler said Thursday.

Cotler said he spoke to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and House leader Peter Van Loan on Wednesday about what steps to take next following the government's failed attempt to amend the Safe Streets and Communities Act on Tuesday.

He said three options were discussed: introducing the amendments later as separate piece of legislation; introducing the amendments in the Senate; reconvening the committee to deal with the bill again.

"That third option, they told me, was not on the table," Cotler said. "I left yesterday understanding from the House leader … that they were going to move it in the Senate," he said. Cotler said that option isn't preferable because it shows disrespect for House of Commons procedure, but he said the legislation does need the amendments.

Cotler had proposed a number of amendments to the bill at its clause-by-clause review last week at the committee stage on the portion of the bill related to allowing victims of terrorism to sue the perpetrators of it. He tried to change the omnibus bill, which combines nine previous bills, so that victims could so not only sue terrorist groups, but a state itself for committing or supporting terrorism.

The proposals were all rejected by the Conservatives on the committee, which came as a surprise to Cotler because of previous discussions he had had with Toews and officials.

"I had had some indication that these amendments were being, let's say responsibly considered by the government ministers involved. But then I feel that this overall generic rejection hold on the committee remained and then these amendments were rejected," he said Thursday.

On Tuesday, Toews proposed virtually the same amendments as Cotler's at the bill's report stage but Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer ruled them ineligible for debate because they should have been proposed at the committee stage. The government missed its chance to amend the legislation.

The government amendments show they agree the legislation can be improved Cotler said, which is what he says he was trying to do but his efforts were rejected because he is a Liberal MP.

With an indication the government will use the Senate to amend the bill, Cotler asked Toews in question period to tell the House of Commons what he intends to do.

"Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to keep our streets and communities safe. That is why we have made passage of the Safe Streets and Communities Act a priority. We are always interested in measures that put victims first," Toews responded.

Cotler said he doesn't understand why Toews didn't answer the question and only repeated the government's "mantra" about supporting victims.

"Well what the hell were those amendments all about? It was to protect victims, it was to give civil remedies to victims of terror. [These were] victim-oriented amendments," he said.

The Montreal MP has been fighting for legislation for victims of terrorism since he was Liberal justice minister. His legislation died on the order paper in 2006 when his government was defeated.

The government moved a motion Wednesday to limit debate on the report stage of the bill and then the House of Commons voted Wednesday night to pass the bill at that stage. It now moves to third and final reading.


With files Canadian Press