The House

First Nations take on federal plan for pot legislation

This week on The House, we talk with Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day about how Indigenous communities plan to tackle the federal government's plan to legalize marijuana. Chris Hall also sits down with the acting Minister of Democratic Institutions, Scott Brison, to dissect the government's bill to modernize the country's election laws.
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde speaks during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Que. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The government's failure to more comprehensively consult with Indigenous groups ahead of the planned marijuana legalization is an example of how the relationship with Ottawa needs to change, according to Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day.

This week, the Assembly of First Nations voted to push the government to include them in the tax revenue sharing deal from the profits of marijuana grown and sold on their territories.

On Parliament Hill, a Senate committee also recommended the Liberal government hold back on legalizing cannabis for up to a year in order to address its potential for harmful effects in Indigenous communities.

"We were an afterthought," Isadore Day told The House, explaining the government does communicate, but ineffectively.

"We don't hear back from them until they've already made decisions on those very issue which we've discussed."

The prime minister indicated the government intends to push through along the current timeline — final vote on the bill is scheduled to occur in the Senate on or before June 7, with legalization expected to follow eight to 12 weeks later.

Day said issues like tax jurisdiction and addictions support need to be dealt with, or communities might decide to pursue their own plans anyways.

Consultations with Indigenous communities need refocus on equality in order to be effective, Day said.

"Nation to nation isn't top down."

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day talks about how Indigenous communities plan to tackle the federal government's plan to legalize marijuana.

Government musing modernization of border pact

An RCMP officer speaks to an asylum seeker who crossed the border at Roxham Road in the summer of 2017. About 5,000 people have crossed illegally into Canada since the beginning of this year. (CBC)

The federal government is looking at the possibility of working with the U.S. to modernize a border pact to help address the issues of asylum seekers crossing irregularly into Canada.

However, it's not clear what changes could be in the works.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said they're reviewing a Canadian proposal to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement — requiring individuals to claim asylum in the first country they land in, with few exceptions.

"It's always worth a look," Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said.

While Hussen has repeatedly stressed that there are no "formal negotiations" going on at this point, he told The House that part of the conversations around border management could include seeing if that 14-year-old agreement needs to be modernized.

Last year, Hussen rejected calls to suspend the agreement, saying there was no need to "tinker" with it, but on Thursday, he said Canadian officials have discussed the agreement with their U.S. counterparts.

"I think what they meant was that we've had discussions on all kinds of issues related to immigration and border security, including safe third," he said, attempting to clarify the confusion around the U.S.'s statement.

In the meantime, Hussen said the government will continue to address the issue of illegal border crossers by using the same tactics that seemed to work last year.

Educating specific groups more likely to cross, maintaining RCMP presence along the borders and funnelling funding into the Immigration and Refugee Board made up the majority of efforts in 2017 to quell the flow of border crossers.

The problem continues, so Ahmed Hussen says they'll continue with what worked before.

Last year, more than 20,000 asylum seekers crossed illegally into Canada. The trend seems to be continuing this year, with about 5,000 crossings so far.

The government has been hard-pressed to find a solution to this steady stream of people. Some of the ideas floated include the Conservative's pitch to designate the entire Canada-U.S. border an official crossing and the NDP's plan to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement for 90 days.

Hussen called both parties' suggestions "impractical" and "not well thought out,"

The minister wouldn't say what other potential fixes are on the table, but said Canadians' safety is top priority.

The federal government is looking at the possibility of working with the U.S. to modernize a border pact to help address the issues of asylum seekers crossing irregularly into Canada.

However, opposition critics on Parliament Hill are skeptical of the government's priorities.

"I think it's political calculus," Conservative MP Michelle Rempel told The House, explaining she sees it as the government avoiding taking a concrete stance on the migrants so not to lose vote on either side of the fence as an election approaches.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan added the Liberals' handling of the issue appears like they're trying to play both sides of the issue  --- pitching a love of immigrants on the international stage and then not backing it up with action at home.

"He can't talk out of both sides of his mouth," she said of Hussen. 

Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel and NDP Immigration critic Jenny Kwan join The House.

Democratic changes possible by next election, minister says

Scott Brison is confident the government can legislate changes to the way elections are run in time for the federal one next year. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The acting minister of democratic institutions says he believes Elections Canada can implement changes included in a new bill in time for the next election.

On Monday, the Trudeau government tabled legislation proposing to limit the length of federal election campaigns, restrict the amount of spending allowed in the period immediately before a campaign and introduce new rules to regulate third-party political activity.

The new set of reforms to Canada's elections laws would also require political parties to disclose how and what information they collect from voters.

But the timeline has been called into question, with Canada's acting chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault telling a committee last week that major changes to election laws should have been enacted by April of this year if they were to apply in time for the next federal election.

Brison thinks it's still feasible on the current timeline.

"Elections Canada was consulted deeply," he told The House.

Though Elections Canada can't act until C-76 becomes law, Brison said they can start planning and organizing before the legislation is passed.

Most of Election Canada's recommendations on changes to the electoral system have been included in this bill, which will make it easier to plan for, he added.

Chris Hall also sits down with the acting Minister of Democratic Institutions, Scott Brison, to dissect the government's bill to modernize the country's election laws.

However, the NDP and Conservative MPs who follow this file aren't convinced this bill will be ready in time for next year — or that it will adequately protect Canadians' privacy or stop foreign interference.

"It sounds to me like they're going to try and rush this through as quickly as possible. How do they expect this to be done in the best interest of democracy when there's not time to actually look at this," Blake Richards told The House.

His NDP counterpart Nathan Cullen agreed, that the bill is too late and still has major gaps.

Both said getting ready for the next election isn't necessarily a good excuse to ram the bill through the House of Commons and Senate.

"You shouldn't make generational changes to our democracy in a rush," Cullen said.

Nathan Cullen, the NDP's Democratic Reform critic, and Blake Richards, the Democratic Institutions critic for the Conservatives, join The House.

Internal department review wrong choice for Diab case: lawyer

Hassan Diab was detained in a French prison for three years before being released and returning to Canada. (Lisa Laventure/CBC)

The federal justice department has no credibility to review Hassan Diab's extradition, according to his lawyer.

Diab, 64, was extradited to France in 2014 and spent more than three years in prison there in near-solitary confinement conditions while being investigated on terrorism charges.

When Diab was released and returned to Canada in January, Justice launched an internal review of the case.

Documents obtained by CBC News show a senior lawyer with the justice department went to great lengths to obtain evidence when it appeared the French case was falling apart.

"They can't investigate themselves, that will have no credibility," Donald Bayne told The House.

"Tasking the minister of justice to do an internal review is asking the wrong people."

CBC News has also learned Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will closely monitor the review.

Bayne said her involvement in the case has been "outstanding," but it shouldn't be left to an internal government review because of evidence of their involvement.

The lawyer said he doubts that anything short of a public inquiry will reveal the full truth.

Hassan Diab's lawyer, Don Bayne, talks about the issues raised by Canada's role in Diab's extradition case, and why he's calling for a public inquiry into what happened.