Mr. Robert Goguen (for the Minister of Justice)
moved that Bill S-12, An Act to amend the Statutory Instruments Act and to make consequential amendments to the Statutory Instruments Regulations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Today I would like to speak to the House about Bill S-12, Incorporation by Reference in Regulations Act.
Bill S-12 has been studied by the Senate and has been adopted without amendment. This bill deals with a regulatory drafting technique. Essentially, the bill is about when federal regulators can, or cannot, use the technique of “incorporation by reference”.
The technique of incorporation by reference is currently used in a wide range of federal regulations. Indeed it is difficult to think of a regulated area in which incorporation by reference is not used to some degree. Bill S-12 is about securing the government’s access to a drafting technique that has already become essential to the way government regulates. It is also about leading the way internationally in the modernization of regulations.
But more specifically, Bill S-12 responds to concerns expressed by the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations about when incorporation by reference can be used. This bill would create the legal certainty that is needed to respond to those concerns.
Incorporation by reference has already become an essential tool that is widely relied upon to achieve the objectives of the government. It is an effective way to achieve many of the current goals of the Cabinet Directive on Regulatory Management, an important directive from the government that is designed to improve the efficiency and performance of regulations.
For example, regulations that use this technique are effective in facilitating intergovernmental co-operation and harmonization, a key objective of the Regulatory Cooperation Council established by our Prime Minister and President Obama.
By incorporating the legislation of other jurisdictions with which harmonization is desired, or by incorporating standards developed internationally, regulations can minimize duplication, an important objective of the Red Tape Reduction Commission, which issued its report earlier this year.
Incorporation by reference is also an important tool available for the government to facilitate Canada’s compliance with its international obligations. Referencing material that is internationally accepted rather than attempting to reproduce the same rules in the regulations also reduces technical differences that create barriers to trade and is in fact something Canada is required to do under the World Trade Organization’s Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement.
Incorporation by reference is also an effective way to take advantage of the particular expertise of standards writing bodies in Canada. Canada has a national standards system that is recognized all over the world. Incorporation of standards, whether developed in Canada or internationally, allows for the best science and the most accepted approach in areas that affect people on a day-to-day basis to be used in regulations. Indeed, reliance on this expertise is essential to ensuring access to technical knowledge across the country and around the world.
Testimony by witnesses from the Standards Council of Canada before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs made it clear how extensively Canada already relies on international and national standards. Ensuring that regulators continue to have the ability to use ambulatory incorporation by reference in their regulations means that Canadians can be assured that they are protected by the most up-to-date technology.
Incorporation by reference allows for the expertise of the Canadian National Standards System and international standards system to form a meaningful part of the regulatory tool box.
Another important aspect of Bill S-12 is that it allows for the incorporation by reference of rates and indices, such as the consumer price index or the Bank of Canada rates, which are important elements in many regulations. For these reasons and more, ambulatory incorporation by reference is an important instrument available to regulators when they are designing their regulatory initiatives.
Bill S-12 strikes an important balance by limiting the types of documents that can be incorporated by reference when these documents are produced by the regulation maker. Indeed, the incorporation of these documents can only be done statically. This is an important safeguard against circumvention of the regulatory process.
Parliament's ability to control the delegation of regulation-making powers continues, as does the oversight of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. We expect that the standing joint committee will continue its work in respect of the scrutiny of regulations at the time that they were first made, as well as in the future. We expect that the standing joint committee will indeed play an important role in ensuring that the use of this technique continues to be exercised in the way Parliament has authorized.
Another important aspect of this bill relates to accessibility. Bill S-12 not only recognizes the need to provide a solid legal basis for the use of this regulatory drafting technique, but it also expressly imposes in legislation an obligation on all regulators to ensure that the documents they incorporate are accessible to the public.
While this has always been something that the common law required, this bill clearly enshrines this obligation in legislation. There is no doubt that accessibility should be part of this bill. It is essential that documents that are incorporated by reference be accessible to those who are required to comply with them.
This is an important and significant step forward in this legislation. The general approach to accessibility found in Bill S-12 will provide flexibility to regulatory bodies to take whatever steps might be necessary to make sure that the different types of material from various sources are, in fact, accessible.
In general, material that is incorporated by reference is already accessible. As a result, in some cases, no further action on the part of the regulation-making authority will be necessary. For example, provincial legislation is already generally accessible. Federal regulations that incorporate provincial legislation will undoubtedly allow the regulator to meet the requirement to ensure that that material is accessible.
Sometimes, accessing the document through the standards organization itself will be appropriate. It will be clear that the proposed legislation will ensure the regulated community will have access to the incorporated material, with a reasonable effort on their part.
It is also important to note that standards organizations, such as the Canadian Standards Association, understand the need to provide access to incorporated standards. By recognizing the changing landscape of the Internet, this bill creates a meaningful obligation on regulators to ensure accessibility while still allowing for innovation, flexibility and creativity.
Bill S-12 is intended to solidify the government's access to a regulatory drafting technique that is essential to modern and responsive regulation. It also recognizes the corresponding obligations that regulators must meet when using this tool. The bill strikes an important balance that reflects the reality of modern regulation while ensuring that appropriate protections are enshrined in law. No person can suffer a penalty or sanction if the relevant material was not accessible to them.
The proposal would provide express legislative authority for the use of this technique in the future and confirm the validity of existing regulations incorporating documents in a manner that is consistent with that authority. There is every indication that the use of this technique will be essential to implementing regulatory modernization initiatives here in Canada in conjunction with our regulatory partners in the United States and around the world.
To conclude, enactment of the legislation is the logical and necessary next step to securing access in a responsible manner through incorporation by reference in regulations. I invite all members to support this legislative proposal and recognize the important step forward that it contains.
Ms. Françoise Boivin (Gatineau, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, as I was saying when I was questioning my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, to some people, it may seem as though the House is dealing with a housekeeping bill. I read this in a newspaper article today. However, in my opinion, Bill S-12 is anything but a housekeeping bill. It is crucial to our role as legislators. It is not necessarily bad, but it has a lot of ramifications.
When I arrived here at the beginning of this Parliament, I co-chaired the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. When the party leader at the time, Jack Layton, called me to tell me that I was going to co-chair the committee, I wondered what it was all about. I thought that I was quite knowledgeable in this field, but during my all too brief stint on this committee, I had the opportunity to work with the great legislative and legal minds in this Parliament, and I learned a lot about the important role played by this joint committee, which brings together senators and MPs. This committee ensures that our regulations are in line with the legislation and the delegation order and that they are written in specific way.
As an aside, right now, members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights are discussing a motion that I moved regarding Justice Canada's obligation, under the Department of Justice Act, to assure this House that any bills that are introduced in the House or the Senate are consistent with the charter and respect the division of power under the Constitution.
The same exercise applies when it comes to regulations. I urge my colleagues in this House, who will have to deal with Bill S-12 and decide whether it should be sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, to examine the bill and the changes it makes. Obviously, it adds text to what we call regulatory statutes. People are not necessarily aware of the Statutory Instruments Act, which states in section 3 that:
|| (1) Subject to any regulations made pursuant to paragraph 20(a), where a regulation-making authority proposes to make a regulation, it shall cause to be forwarded to the Clerk of the Privy Council three copies of the proposed regulation in both official languages.
|| (2) On receipt by the Clerk of the Privy Council of copies of a proposed regulation pursuant to subsection (1), the Clerk of the Privy Council, in consultation with the Deputy Minister of Justice, shall examine the proposed regulation to ensure that
||(a) it is authorized by the statute pursuant to which it is to be made;
It is important to understand that in order to have the right to regulate, the agency or deputy minister must have the authority to make or draft regulations.
||(b) it does not constitute an unusual or unexpected use of the authority pursuant to which it is to be made;
|| (c) it does not trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms and is not, in any case, inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights; and
||(d) the form and draftsmanship of the proposed regulation are in accordance with established standards.
What the heck does the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations do? My colleague from Hamilton Mountain co-chairs the committee with Senator Runciman from the other place. Every week, they receive stacks of regulations. If members think that we study a lot of bills in these chambers, it is nothing compared to the regulations. It can be mind-boggling.
I am telling the House about all this because that which is extremely important for our constituents is often found within the regulations. It is often through the regulations that we are able to say, based on enabling legislation, that a person has the right to do something or not.
We have regulations by the tonne. Thank heaven, because often the lawyers, the great legal minds we have in this precinct—and I am referring not to the House, but to the support provided at the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations—have already done a good analysis. For example, they communicate with the Minister of the Environment or the deputy minister to tell him that there is a problem with the regulations, and that he must rectify it. Sometimes the English version does not correspond to the French version. It is unbelievable.
I recall going before a liaison committee to have a budget adopted. I heard colleagues from the House, legislators, say that the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations was a waste of time, when it is the bastion for the Canadian public that makes sure that regulations hold up, that they are legal and are not unconstitutional or contrary to the charters. That is a big responsibility.
I would like to give my colleagues some background so they do not think that Bill S-12 is mere housekeeping. What does it do? It extends the powers of the authorities that are empowered to make regulations. It allows them to practice what I call the "et cetera" or "dot dot dot" technique.
I am not saying this to diminish the impact of Bill S-12. I understand why it is sometimes important to use incorporation by reference, given that it can be a lengthy, costly and sometimes utterly irritating process that often has a lot of red tape and pitfalls that may seem to be administrative. We know why. This is an effort, possibly with good reason, to cut delays so we can be effective in a modern society, as my colleague the parliamentary secretary put it. Technology has changed and we have computers. I certainly do not intend to stand in the way of progress. But progress must not come at the expense of the rights of the people we represent. That is extremely important.
I encourage my colleagues in the House to read. It will be a funny thing to hear a New Democrat talk about the Senate, but it is the government that decided to go by way of the Senate for a bill this important. In my opinion, no bill, and especially not bills that have as far-reaching an impact on the people we represent, should start out in the Senate, because senators are not representatives of the people, they are individuals who have been appointed by the government in power, whichever one it may be.
Given this background, when bills of this nature and with this far-reaching effect are to be introduced, bills that can have significant consequences for the people we represent, they should be introduced here.
Having said that, I do believe the Senate does its work seriously. The parliamentary secretary insisted on the point that the bill was adopted without amendment. Personally, that is not something I would boast about, because some senators had raised solid and serious objections.
I encourage members of this House to read what happened in the Senate and what was discussed. Various witnesses were heard, including experts in regulation. People working on the standardization of regulations are in favour of speeding up the process. As I said earlier, that is not a problem. Still, it must not diminish the legislators' powers, the powers we still enjoy in this fine democracy, thank God, to ensure that things are done properly.
That is one of the major problems. This bill speaks of accessibility. In other words, someone may find they have contravened a regulation. The body that made the regulation must demonstrate that its regulation was accessible. What is meant by "accessible" is not very clear. How will it be accessible? We are used to searching the Internet, using computers, and we can type and find things.
The other day I was telling someone that I have been a lawyer for almost 30 years. It is astounding to see how things have improved and accelerated. Now we can get answers in 3.25 seconds to questions it used to take two weeks to answer.
I wonder how I was able to answer all the questions and provide services when I was first practising law. Now I am able to do it in a fraction of the time it used to take. Newcomers to the profession do not know what it is like to go into a law library, take out books and search for regulations. Now they only need to type in "regulation concerning such and such" and it appears on the screen.
But not everyone has these skills. Not everyone is Internet savvy. Some older people may have more difficulty.
The regulations that are incorporated by reference may not be very accessible. How does one find a document? What is the starting point? What clues are there regarding incorporation by reference?
Some other questions have occurred to me. If we are searching for international treaties or standards, for example, which ones should we use to find out what stage they are at in those countries?
Let us imagine a person from my part of the country, Quebec, who lives in the most distant part of the province, who does not speak a word of English, and receives a regulation written only in English.
It could also be in New Brunswick, my colleague's province, where there are proud francophones who insist that things be written in both official languages.
All of this was discussed in the Senate. Details were provided about the type of reference documents being discussed, and what would be included.
I encourage members to read the senators' speeches, the questions they asked, and the answers provided by the minister, for example. It is more than simply updating the process. We must also deal with the content and the direction we want to go. Nevertheless, our fundamental right as legislators is to be able to view and analyze regulations.
We have been told that it will not diminish the role of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. I have my doubts about that, because the committee will be able to examine the initial regulation, but for any reference and what becomes of it, the committee will not be able to follow through.
I do not think that our legal drafters will use the regulation that has been referred if, at some time, they want to see where it is at a given moment. They will study it with respect to adoption and drafting of the regulation itself.
And yet it is clear in the Statutory Instruments Act: a regulation must have been published. This is going to short-circuit a large part of the regulations we are accustomed to.
I will repeat: the NDP is not against progress. We are prepared to support the government and send the bill to committee.
However, I would like to see some openness on the government side. I make the same appeal every time: when we have objections, we are not trying to throw a monkey wrench into the works; we are trying to protect ourselves from those wrenches hitting us on the head later, if this kind of regulation is implemented.
There will be situations when people have not had access, and other times when it is not in the right language. That takes us back to step one.
The NDP often tries to keep the government out of trouble. I do not think the Conservatives intentionally look for trouble. Perhaps they would benefit from listening to what the official opposition is telling them.
We will take our considerable reservations and worries to committee. We will hope to get answers that were given but not necessarily listened to in the Senate. The House and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights hope to get these answers. If not, there may be a lot of difficulty getting support for this bill in the next stages.
If there are amendments to be proposed, I hope that all my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will have open minds and will not assume that everything coming from the opposition is necessarily bad. At the heart of the matter, we all want to help Canadians understand.
Thousands of statistics on regulations are adopted every year. It is important to understand them and to provide for the use of incorporation by reference. I will leave it up to my NDP colleagues, some very knowledgeable law professors, to explain the difference between static incorporation by reference and ambulatory incorporation by reference. Since I do not want to put anyone to sleep here in the House, I will leave it up to the professors, who know how to make it all very interesting.
Nevertheless, with all these methods, it is hard to see things clearly. It is not like reading a document that clearly states what the regulations are. There is a logical outcome, but we cannot necessarily see it. We do not know where, since answers from the Senate are not always clear, but I hope we can get some clearer ones.
I have heard MPs say that the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations is useless. Although I am no longer a member, from having been one in the past, I can assure this House that it is one of our most important committees, because it serves as a watchdog and it is non-partisan.
Perhaps my speech did nothing more than convince the members that that committee is non-partisan, and heaven knows that there is precious little about this place that is non-partisan. For goodness' sake, we need to make sure it stays that way. It is fundamental, because it is our guarantee to Canadian defendants and litigants that the regulatory work is being done in their interest, legally and in accordance with the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
And with that, I am now ready to answer questions.
Mr. Massimo Pacetti (Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to outline the Liberal Party of Canada's position on Bill S-12 to amend the Statutory Instruments Act and to make consequential amendments to the Statutory Instruments Regulations. The short title makes the bill's purpose clearer: the Incorporation by Reference in Regulations Act. Before commenting on the bill, I would like to explain to the House what incorporation by reference is.
In today's environment of globalization, regulation is becoming increasingly complex. For example, we must accept international standards for reasons of trade, safety and security. This reality is reflected in Canada's regulations. In order to simplify the writing of regulations, the regulatory authorities are relying more and more on incorporation by reference. Incorporation by reference can be either closed—also known as static—or open—also known as ambulatory, dynamic or rolling.
Closed incorporation by reference is merely a style of drafting. Rather than including a complex, multi-paragraph definition from another document in a regulatory text, the regulatory authority simplifies the reading and writing by referring to the other document as it appeared on a given date. That incorporation is called closed, because the version of the cited document is the one that existed on the date specified in the regulation. If the cited document is later changed, the new version will not automatically be incorporated into the regulation.
Open incorporation by reference, on the other hand, is a kind of sub-delegation of the power to make regulations, since the current version and future versions of the other documents are being incorporated. If the incorporated document is amended after the regulation is adopted, it will automatically be part of the regulation. Therefore the regulatory authority no longer has control over the regulation, since another body can change the document incorporated by reference, completely independently.
According to the analysts at the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, open incorporation by reference is not legal, except when Parliament expressly authorizes the regulatory authority to use it. That would mean, for example, that Parliament would need to pass legislation to permit it, or give such authorization when the power to make regulations is delegated. Open incorporation by reference amounts to a sub-delegation of the regulation-making power, which is contrary to our Constitution and our statutes.
The government, particularly the Department of Justice, is of the contrary opinion, and has used open incorporation by reference in many regulatory texts. For example, since 2007, the Conservative government has used open incorporation by reference at least 300 times. One reason the Conservatives introduced Bill S-12 in the Senate was to put an end to the debate and legitimize their way of doing things. The bill would authorize the regulatory authorities to sub-delegate the regulatory power without needing to obtain Parliament's authorization.
Clearly, this is a very complex bill. Since it affects all federal regulation, it is also very important. The Conservatives quietly introduced this bill in the Senate, but apparently they did not take their work seriously. The bill is full of flaws, some of which will have a serious impact on Canadians and the linguistic duality of our country. The Conservatives are too short-sighted to recognize these flaws and it will be up to the courts to make decisions.
Which way will the Supreme Court lean and when? I have no idea. Until that time, we will live in uncertainty, which will be bad for businesses, for francophone rights, and for all citizens' access to the law.
According to the analysts at the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, the Canadian Constitution does not allow sub-delegation of the regulation-making power. When Parliament delegates a regulation-making power to a department, for example, the department should not delegate that power again to another entity using incorporation by open reference.
This type of incorporation amounts precisely to sub-delegating the regulation-making power, since all subsequent amendments made by the foreign entity will automatically become part of the Canadian regulations.
This bill will legitimize this sub-delegation of the regulation-making power. It is understandable that globalization has made it necessary to coordinate our regulations with our partners'. This also benefits the regulation-making authorities since the present situation is confusing for them. It is also understandable that sub-delegating the regulation-making power will reduce the workload for regulation-making authorities, and this will enable them to free up resources for other tasks. For example, if they do not have to be constantly updating regulations to coordinate them with the incorporated documents, regulation-making authorities will gain an enormous amount of time. So the Liberal Party and I understand that the bill is satisfactory to them.
For Canadians and democracy, however, this bill creates more problems than it offers solutions. The Parliament of Canada will lose a portion of its control over regulations, since foreign entities will sometimes be deciding the content of our regulations. In other words, Canada will lose a portion of its sovereignty when the documents incorporated by reference come from entities outside Canada. The sovereignty we lose will be gained by others, like our principal trading partner, the United States. We quite often have to coordinate our regulations with that partner, but this bill means that it will sometimes be our neighbour that will decide the content of our regulations directly, without any participation by the Canadian government.
We believe that Parliament, which represents all Canadians, cannot agree to sub-delegation of the regulation-making power such as is permitted by Bill S-12, unless it has expressly authorized it when the regulation-making power was delegated in enabling legislation.
One of the worst problems this bill will create is the reduced accessibility of regulations. Clause 18.3 in the bill does state that the accessibility of the document incorporated by reference must be ensured by the regulation-making authority or the minister who is accountable for it to Parliament, but that is problematic since the bill says nothing about what the criteria are for accessibility or how the document is to be made accessible.
In other words, this confirms that the regulation must be accessible, but accessibility is not defined. Clause 18.4 of the bill states:
|| 18.4...a document, index, rate or number that is incorporated by reference in a regulation is not required to be transmitted for registration or published in the Canada Gazette...
If the documents incorporated are not registered, how will they be accessible to the public? Will it be enough to provide the name of the document incorporated? Does the government have to provide copies of the document incorporated to people who want it?
If accessibility means publishing certain information, such as the name of the document and its authors, it is quite likely that there could be situations where the document incorporated is protected by copyright.
In that case, it would be up to the individual or the corporation to pay large amounts to obtain the document. Once again, the government would be shifting the cost onto the people. The law is supposed to be accessible to everyone. However, this bill could restrict accessibility. In short, there are more questions than answers about accessibility with Bill S-12. Judges will have to deal with these issues.
As I said earlier, clause 18.4, which confirms that documents incorporated do not have to be registered or published in the Canada Gazette, will reduce transparency and, in particular, make it impossible to examine regulations. The Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations does not have the resources needed to examine all federal regulations. Just imagine for a moment what will happen if this bill is passed.
With the multiplication of the number of incorporations by reference, regulations will be constantly changing. It will be impossible to examine everything. The government's transparency will be greatly affected, which is obviously not what we want.
According to an analyst to whom we posed the question, the committee would probably need 10 times more resources than it has now in order to carry out its work properly after the passage of Bill S-12. Are the Conservatives likely to give the committee proper funding? Knowing them as I do, I predict that they are not, and this does not bode well for the transparency and effectiveness of our regulations.
The lack of clarity in the bill is unfortunately not restricted to the general accessibility of documents or to the transparency of the government. Canada’s linguistic duality could well be jeopardized. Because the incorporated material does not have to be registered or published in the Canada Gazette, there is no guarantee that it will be available in Canada’s two official languages.
In the 1992 Manitoba language rights reference, the Supreme Court held that a document referred to in a federal regulation was subject to section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and that it should be incorporated in both official languages, except if there is a bona fide reason for its incorporation without translation. This exception for legitimate reasons applies to material prepared by an international body or another foreign entity.
As we are all aware, English is now the dominant language on the international stage. French is still used in certain large organizations, but in general, English dominates. More often than not, then, the material that will be incorporated will be in English. Therefore, this means that the federal regulations will be available in English but not in French.
Will a document that is available only in English be considered accessible according to section 18.3 of the bill? Perhaps it will, perhaps it will not. We will have to wait until the courts rule on the issue according to their interpretation of section 18.3. Uncertainty and confusion will therefore reign for a number of years to come if the bill is passed as it currently stands.
Regardless of the courts’ interpretation, the problem will still exist. There are precedents in Canadian history where documents incorporated by reference were only in English. For instance, if the courts decide that the regulation-making authority has a duty to provide a French translation of incorporated material that is available only in English, how are we going to judge individuals accused of having somehow broken the law?
Let me explain. Since open incorporation by reference amounts to automatically incorporating all the updates made to a given document in Canadian regulations, we can expect that it might take some time to make the translation available.
Section 18.6 states:
|| A person is not liable to be found guilty of an offence or subjected to an administrative sanction for any contravention in respect of which a document, index, rate or number—that is incorporated by reference in a regulation—is relevant unless, at the time of the alleged contravention, it was accessible as required by section 18.3 or it was otherwise accessible to that person.
In a case where the original is in English, will we have a legal system where anglophones and francophones are judged differently? Since the French translation—if there is one—is not immediately available, could a unilingual francophone be acquitted because of the translation time? What about a case where a francophone understands English?
I want to look at the last part of section 18.6: “...or it was otherwise accessible to that person”. That means that no matter how a judge interprets section 18.3 on accessibility, a person could be charged if they had access to the law in some way. Since no one is considered ignorant of the law, will we have cases where francophones who understand English are criminally charged because the document was available in English but not in French? If that is the case, French will again be marginalized and francophones will be forced to work in English because documents will be available in English long before they are translated into French, if they are translated at all.
But that is not catastrophic. Truth be told, this bill is full of holes, and it will be up to judges to fix them. It will take years before everything is fixed. Until then, I have no idea what will happen, and neither do the Conservatives. Nothing in this bill answers these questions, and the government cannot claim that there are no problems with the bill. Despite everything, it is quite possible that francophones will once again lose out because of the Conservatives' carelessness.
We know this government, so we know that no amendments will be approved. However, I hope that the Conservatives will be open to amendments during the committee process. I urge all of my colleagues, regardless of their party, to vote against this bill, which will weaken our powers as parliamentarians, hurt linguistic duality and limit the public's access to our laws.
Ms. Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to begin by letting the House know that I will be splitting my time this afternoon with the member for Toronto—Danforth.
I rise today to speak on Bill S-12, An Act to amend the Statutory Instruments Act and to make consequential amendments to the Statutory Instruments Regulations.
As I said earlier, at this point people who are watching this debate on television are probably shaking their heads and wondering why we are not debating the important issues, like job creation, EI, health care, climate change or the growing income inequality in Canada. Those are the issues grabbing headlines these days, and I might add rightfully so.
There is also a sub-theme to much of the recent media coverage, which focuses on this Prime Minister's repeated thwarting of the democratic process and the threat this represents to the institution of Parliament. Bill S-12 adds fuel to that fire. As dry as the title might seem, this bill will legitimize the ability of governments to do things by regulation without the express authorization of Parliament. Without being overly dramatic, this bill will undermine democratic values and risk turning law-abiding citizens into criminals.
Let me go back to try to explain the genesis of this bill. At issue is the proper process for creating rules of law through regulations. Regulations are a delegated form of law-making that is derived from and authorized by Parliament's ultimate legislative authority. As a result, it is particularly important that regulations are written and communicated in such a way that members of the public clearly know their rights and obligations. To that end, regulations must go through a legal examination, be registered, get published in the Gazette and are then referred to the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations for parliamentary oversight.
At times, other documents are referenced into regulations simply by naming them. The legal effect is the same as repeating the material word for word in the regulation. When the material that is being incorporated is static, such incorporations by reference do not pose a problem because the regulation has gone through the proper approval procedures. It becomes tricky when that incorporated material changes. For example, the document could contain a provision that allows it to be amended from time to time. In essence, then, future changes automatically become part of the regulation without any oversight.
Such incorporations by reference are called ambulatory or open incorporations by reference because their content is not static. It is this type of regulation making that poses the legal conundrum. Is it appropriate to allow rules to be imposed without those rules having gone through the proper regulatory process?
Given the proliferation of regulations in recent years, this is more than a theoretical question. There are, at the federal level alone, approximately 3,000 regulations comprising over 30,000 pages. That compares with some 450 statutes comprising about 13,000 pages. On top of that, departments and agencies submit to the regulations section, on average, about 1,000 draft regulations each and every year; whereas Parliament enacts about 80 bills during the same period. Regulations, therefore, play a major role in setting the rules of law that apply to Canadian citizens.
Canadians must be able to have confidence that the regulations that govern them have been duly authorized by Parliament. For that reason, the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations adopted a unanimous report in 2007 that called on the government to stop using unauthorized open incorporation by reference without the permission of Parliament.
The position of the joint committee was, and is, that absent an express grant of authority or a clear indication to the contrary in the enabling statute, the incorporation by reference of external material is proper only where a fixed text is incorporated, as opposed to a text that is amended from time to time. In fact, the use of incorporation by reference as amended from time to time has been deemed improper and illegal because it is a regulation without the express authorization of Parliament. The government knows that.
In the other place, Conservative Linda Frum noted in her speech on this bill that “Incorporation by reference is a widely used drafting technique currently, but this bill would legitimize it...”. Those are important words: “this bill would legitimize it”. With those five words she is confirming that the government knows it has been acting illegally every time it used the technique without explicit parliamentary authorization. Let us not kid ourselves; it did not just happen once or twice.
The Conservatives have used ambulatory incorporation by reference 170 times since 2006. Bill S-12 is essentially designed to give the government legal cover after the fact for its prior and ongoing illegal activities. Put differently and more specifically, proposed section 18.7 would retroactively validate a large number of provisions that were made without lawful authority.
This goes to the very heart of Parliament's authority to delegate its power and choose who can make rules on its behalf. It is mind-boggling that any MP would not be troubled by that prospect. However, party discipline, as enforced by the executive branch in this House, will almost certainly ensure the bill will pass unamended.
Apart from the concerns of allocation of power posed by the open incorporation by reference, I will now turn to the question of accessibility. If ignorance of the law is no excuse, then the law must be available. The problem with incorporations by reference is that the text of the incorporated material is not found in the regulation itself.
Where do Canadians turn to find out about their rights and obligations? The material that is being referenced may be obscure or hard to find. If it involves standards developed by private organizations, there may even be a charge for accessing the material. Nowhere does the bill suggest that departments have to make the material available, nor do they even have to provide information as to where that material might be. When the incorporated material can be amended from time to time, how can citizens know that a change has come into effect? Will past versions of the text always be available? Finally, what happens when the material being incorporated is a law, standard, or agreement from another jurisdiction that may not be bilingual? Would this be a way for the government to circumvent our Official Languages Act?
Proposed subsection 18.3(1) of the bill states, “The regulation-making authority shall ensure that a document, index, rate or number that is incorporated by reference is accessible”. However, what exactly does “accessible” mean? Will it be equally accessible for aboriginal or rural Canadians? Will people have to travel in order to obtain the text, or will the text only be available on the Internet? Would that satisfy the definition of “accessibility”?
Given all of these questions, it would seem likely that it would be left to the courts to define “accessible” in terms of incorporated materials. However, should the onus not be on us as legislators to provide that clarity? I simply do not believe that citizens should have to go to the time and expense of judicial proceedings to determine their rights and obligations. Surely we can, and must, provide that clarity in this House.
At this point, I do not think we need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I do indeed have serious concerns about Bill S-12, and I have expressed many of them in the brief time afforded to me here today. However, as co-chair of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, I know that many of the issues I have raised today are concerns shared by members from all sides of the House and we could bring these perspectives to bear by studying the bill at greater length in committee.
The principle of the sub-delegation of power will be of concern to all of my elected colleagues. As parliamentarians, it fundamentally impacts our role and authority. Similarly, issues of accessibility are critical to the interests of our constituents whom we are here to represent. Given the sheer volume of regulations that are submitted each year, it is essential that we maintain the integrity of the regulatory process.
If we can find common cause on each of these three broad-brush issues, I am confident we can amend Bill S-12 to make it palatable to all parliamentarians. If not, I will have to vote against the bill when it comes back to this House for its third and final reading. Until then, however, I will remain hopeful and optimistic.
Mr. Craig Scott (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Hamilton Mountain for such an amazing introduction. I will be able to build on that, I hope, and actually dispense with parts of my own speech.
The Conservatives would have us believe that Bill S-12 is a merely technical or housekeeping bill. They accomplish this in part by messaging that it simplify codifies an existing drafting practice for regulations, the use of incorporation by reference. We even have journalists now treating this as a routine bill. I do not know if there are any journalists watching this debate for that very reason.
In fact, Bill S-12 is anything but innocuous. Speaking in my capacity not only as the member for Toronto—Danforth but also as official opposition critic for democratic reform, it seems to me that the bill is actually an anti-democratic “reform”, so called. It is a big step backward for open government and indeed for accountable government.
Let me be clear that my focus and remarks are on the endorsement in the bill of a so-called drafting technique known as incorporation by reference, in particular open incorporation by reference, whereby the words “as it is amended from time to time” would be inserted to signal that a document that is incorporated by reference or other materials, when it is changed by external bodies, would automatically enter back into the regulation and continue as binding law without any further intervention by Parliament. This would be in contrast to static or closed incorporation by reference, whereby Parliament and the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations would actually know what document is being incorporated by reference, would be able to review whether it is appropriate that the document comes in and would know when it passes judgment on the regulations of what it is dealing with.
For some years, the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations has expressed concern about the use of open incorporation by reference for reasons that I will discuss a bit later. In 2000, the joint committee called for a legislative amendment to the Statutory Instruments Act to require, as part of its provisions that authorize regulations, that any use of open or ambulatory incorporation by reference be explicitly authorized by each statute as that statute is adopted by Parliament. Without such explicit authority being in each statute, the report says that regulations would not be allowed to use this technique of open incorporation by reference, and would only be allowed to use the technique of closed incorporation by reference at a known date.
Bill S-12 would give carte blanche to the executive branch to use incorporation by reference of an open sort with no constraints of any consequence. This means regulations could change over time when external bodies decide to revise their documents, which have been incorporated by reference, and Parliament would have no further oversight role. These external changes would become law automatically with no further action required from the Canadian state or from Parliament, other than, in Bill S-12, a very vague, unelaborated, undefined duty to ensure the document with its amendments would be “accessible”.
Therefore, any number of changes by non-governmental organizations, industry bodies, international bodies or even foreign governments, to their own documents that have been incorporated by reference, could slip into our system with no scrutiny. For example, there is something known as Parliament's “power of disallowance” of regulations. A regulatory provision can be disallowed on a motion of the House, but that process is not triggered until the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations actually makes a recommendation to the House and to the Senate to disallow the regulation. They would not even have a chance to make such a recommendation with respect to amendments to documents that have occurred on the initiative of an external body and that are entered into our law automatically. This would never come back to the joint committee.
The very description of what would be at stake with Bill S-12 should reveal to the average listener the threats that would be presented by ambulatory or open incorporation by reference to democratic accountability, as well as to the rule of law. This is due to the fact that after the bill passes, if it passes, the executive branch may not only incorporate known documents produced by external bodies, such as this code, that resolution, those guidelines, these rules, but may also effectively yield to that external body the power to change its document in a way that automatically would become legally binding in Canada.
We live in a regulatory era where there are 3,000 regulations making up over 30,000 pages versus about 350 statutes making up 13,000 pages. Without careful scrutiny by Parliament of executive power, our democracy hollows out. We have been witnessing what some scholars call “new political governance” whereby concentrated executive power comes to dominate the parliamentary branch. In Canada, the Prime Minister, the PMO and a small clutch of ministers have effectively engineered a takeover of our Westminster system in recent years.
To add to that phenomenon, greater and greater power in the executive to incorporate by reference materials produced by bodies with no accountability to Parliament, let alone the Canadian public, in the name of economic efficiency or easing the burdens of regulators or flexibility, is something we must be seriously worried about. It makes the problem of executive domination of Parliament even worse.
Before I talk a bit more about why democracy and the rule of law are affected by Bill S-12, let me comment on one other problematic feature of the current process whereby Bill S-12 has come to us. I am not referring to the fact that it started in the Senate; let us leave that to one side. Rather, I am talking about how the government wanders into the House and has the chutzpah, frankly, to claim that Bill S-12 comes from the Senate unamended, as if it were truly a routine bill about regulatory drafting techniques that the Senate unanimously adopted.
In fact, the legislation caused great debate in the Senate. Senators returned to the debates in the mid-2000s, which ended up producing that 2007 joint committee report that I referred to. They objected to how Bill S-12 does not take seriously problems of transparency and accountability, and more broadly, the fundamental principle of the executive branch's subordination to Parliament.
Reasonable amendments were moved, but what happened? The current character of the Senate revealed itself in all of its glory, when Conservative senators voted to defeat every single amendment. This body was created in 1867 for two reasons: to be a regional voice in the federal Parliament and a chamber of sober second thought. It has simply become an extension of whipped party politics. The rational arguments of some senators on Bill S-12 were simply bulldozed by Conservative senators acting according to PMO instruction.
The government did respond to that 2007 report that I mentioned. It focused on one very technical argument that the joint committee had made, that allowing the executive to send on to another body the power to change something that had been incorporated by reference and have that become automatically a part of our law, which is called illicit or illegitimate sub-delegation.
The government focused on this and it made a whole bunch of comparisons to something known as inter-delegation, parliament delegating powers to the provinces to legislate. It created this equivalence between that situation and the situation we face, talking about how it was not a problem, that the provinces could be allowed to continue to amend their legislation or their rules and have a federal statute incorporate that by reference even as those rules change. However, the government failed to notice two fundamentally different features about that situation. First, the provinces are governed democratically, and second, they are within Canada. The fact of deferring to external rules by international actors who have no democratic process as part of how they produce their rules is totally glossed over by the way the government responded to the committee's report.
The government also ignored a serious rule of law concern. What happens when a document is amended by an external body in a way that maybe we cannot expect, in a way that is maybe radical, in a way that actually is problematic? Our Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations has no opportunity to check whether or not those new changes fall within the ambit of the act. That is a rule of law problem right there.
How about a mega rule of law problem? The charter of rights is totally ousted by the ambulatory incorporation by reference process. Section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act requires that Parliament double-check, after the executive has double-checked, that a regulation does not offend the charter. That does not get done with new amendments to incorporated by reference regulations.
Mr. Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the bill we are considering today is very important and quite complex. My colleague from Hamilton Mountain mentioned that the debate may seem very dry, but it is still at the heart of issues that affect all Canadians in terms of respect for the regulations in place. This despite the apparent simplicity of its purpose: to make reference to material and incorporate it in a regulation without reproducing the text. The material will have the same authority and the same force as the rest of the regulation, without actually being there in full.
This debate is already a few years old, and the answer is not always clear even though this technique has been used in federal regulations for a long time already, according to the Chief Legislative Counsel at Justice Canada, Mr. John Mark Keyes. In an earlier speech, my colleague mentioned that this government has used this technique 170 times since 2006.
The bill does indeed appear to be complex, dealing as it does with issues of administrative law and regulations, but it is nevertheless very important and its passage may have a direct impact on the lives of Canadians. We will look into this aspect a little bit later on.
As I said, this bill is very important because it will set a precedent for deciding once and for all whether using this technique for drafting and formulating regulations is legitimate and legal.
The issue is that the bill would make it possible to use open or closed incorporation depending on the type of reference, but the difference between the two is crucial. The regulation-making authority in question will be able to make reference to material—such as a legislative text, a treaty, a standard or technical material—and its subsequent and earlier amendments will be incorporated in the regulations automatically. This is called open incorporation.
Needless to say, in certain cases, incorporation by reference appears to be a logical solution. In the case of interest rates, for instance, or other similar indices, such as the consumer price index or the unemployment rate, I think it is obvious that it should be possible to incorporate numbers, rates or indices in the regulation without having to take the legislative route every time. However, if we dig a little deeper, two issues come up. First, I will quote subsection 18.1(3) of the bill:
|| The power to make a regulation also includes the power to incorporate by reference an index, rate or number—as it exists on a particular date or as it is varied from time to time—[that is, as it may change in the future] established by Statistics Canada, the Bank of Canada or a person or body other than the regulation-making authority.
In other words, the government will be free to incorporate in regulations the definitions, rates and indices established by just about anyone, including civil society groups, foreign governments, NGOs, and so on. The bill does not define those two terms nor does it refer to any definitions in any other legislation. This is a serious problem that was discovered by the Senate committee.
Senator Fraser, asking for clarification about the definitions of these two terms and the ridiculously broad scope of this power, “Trust us' is what you are saying to me”.
The second problem has to do with the accessibility of the regulations, for both Canadians and for Parliament. Indeed, regulations are rather dry, often very complicated texts, and the addition of indices and figures without any direct reference could make the regulations and their objectives even more difficult to understand. It is important to ensure absolute clarity regarding the context in which these figures and indices are incorporated, and I am not convinced that this bill does that.
Furthermore, another kind of accessibility is at issue here: the power of parliamentary oversight. In that sense, this bill in no way responds to the joint committee's concerns regarding the use of incorporation by reference. In fact, the bill does the exact opposite. The joint committee worked very hard to respect the principle of the legislative power of Parliament.
These two problems are mentioned in the most recent edition of L'action gouvernementale -- Précis de droit des institutions administratives by Lemieux and Issalys. I quote:
|| The frequency of such references is making some people fear an erosion of state sovereignty in favour of power structures over which they have no influence. It is also raising more concrete concerns about citizens' access to texts detailing the standards that govern them.
That is at the heart of what we are debating here. The authors are essentially talking about altering the regulatory power, since the reference could prevent people from understanding the regulations, particularly in the case of a so-called ambulatory incorporation by reference, since a reference is being made not only to an external text, but also to the specific context in which the text was created or amended, to which the person subject to the regulations does not necessarily have access.
The use of references to regulations outside of the Canadian legal context poses an even bigger problem, and yet this use is becoming increasingly common.
I would like to read another clause from the bill, paragraph 18.3(1):
|| The regulation-making authority shall ensure that a document, index, rate or number that is incorporated by reference is accessible.
If the idea behind the reference is to avoid having to publish the documents incorporated a second time, since the documents are usually published and accessible in another form, what does the word “accessible” mean? I have listened to the majority of the speeches here this afternoon. But the absence of this definition, or the vague definition, is yet another obstacle to having an exhaustive and effective bill to protect Canadians from being ignorant of the regulations or of the provisions in regulations that could affect them.
According to the legislative counsel of the Minister of Justice, a document can be considered accessible if the person subject to the regulations is able to obtain a copy of the document in question and then understand what needs to be understood. It is not mandatory to send a copy of the document to this person. The document simply has to be accessible if the person makes a reasonable effort.
And that is where section 18.7 takes on its full significance. If accessibility is not demonstrated, this clause paves the way for sanctions or convictions based on the incorporated document. So subsection 18.3(1) can be interpreted as requiring the regulation-making authority to be responsible for accessibility, not the people subject to the regulations.
But who will determine what constitutes reasonable effort? We can all agree that referring to a Canadian or Quebec law does not necessarily require much effort from one of our constituents. It will require Internet access, but that is another debate for another time.
However, if we are talking about a foreign government's specific phytosanitary standards, for example, the person must be able to find that information. In the event that Canada has not yet harmonized its standards with the country in question, the person must navigate a foreign government's website, hoping that the information will be posted in one of Canada's official languages.
I want to say that there are limits to that idea that no one can be ignorant of the law. As parliamentary legislators, we live in a legislative universe and we sometimes have trouble making sense of it. I cannot even imagine the average Canadian who is trying to understand an enabling statute and its many regulations, especially if the regulations are split between an existing text and references.
Mr. Keyes, who testified at the Senate committee, said this during his testimony:
||...the bill is making a substantial improvement in that it is for the first time generally stating this obligation, and it is largely stating the obligation in the way that it exists right now in terms of the common law and in terms of the way the courts have dealt with these issues in the very limited number of cases that incorporated documents have ever come up in the courts.
But he forgot, perhaps, to mention that this improvement is the result of the bill and that debate is still raging over the best approach to take concerning regulation by reference.
This technique is controversial. Recommendations from the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations clearly state the following:
||...incorporation by reference also gives rise to concerns relating to accessibility to the law, in that although incorporated material becomes part of the regulations, the actual text of that material must be found elsewhere.
The report continues:
|| Such concerns are heightened where material is incorporated “as amended from time to time”, in that members of the public may have difficulty ascertaining precisely what the current version is at a particular point in time.
The Liberal senators tried to amend the bill in order to establish guidelines to create standards related to the use of regulations by reference depending on whether it is static or ambulatory. This proposal was rejected, despite the fact that such provisions currently exist in many other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, as well as in certain provincial jurisdictions, including Ontario and Manitoba.
Furthermore, it is not always easy to distinguish between the two types of reference, which can lead to confusion during interpretation of the regulations. My hon. colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands mentioned that Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, both massive bills, contained incorporation by reference provisions. In Bill C-38, it was clause 89. I will not read the clause, because it is six paragraphs long. In Bill C-45, it was clause 30.
This massive bill before us already has some very important elements leading to both a static and ambulatory incorporation by reference. But this measure is not yet entrenched in our regulations, and as we heard in many speeches, its legitimacy raises some questions, not only for us as parliamentarians, because we have to discuss and debate these pieces of legislation and perhaps pass them, but also for any Canadians who find themselves having to navigate this quagmire.
Again, Bills C-38 and C-45 added, amended or eliminated over 130 different acts. If, some day, we can include incorporation by reference, particularly ambulatory incorporation by reference, we may get totally confused, and even more so if that practice is generalized with the presence of terms whose definition is imprecise or non-existent.
The Senate refused to define terms like “accessibility” and “reasonable effort to get the document”. We, on this side of the House, hope to do this essential work at committee stage and to ensure that the legislation will be suited to all Canadians.
In the end, these elements of Bills C-38 and C-45 suggest that the minister is giving himself a fair amount of power. Do we really want to go in that direction with Canadian legislation? This process could well be used to make the legislation even less transparent and accessible to Canadians.
I do not think that this method should be completely avoided, since it also offers benefits in terms of the effectiveness of the legislation and the streamlining of statutory instruments which are often complex and cumbersome.
The hon. member for Hamilton Mountain gave a number of examples and she mentioned some numbers. I believe it was 30,000 pages of regulations and 13,000 pages of acts in Canada. Amending 30,000 pages of regulations is a very delicate exercise. If we want to ensure that these regulations are constantly up to date, it is going to require painstaking efforts.
In that sense, incorporation by reference may be an interesting option, but we must be able to define it and use it properly. That is why we will not oppose this bill at second reading, since it will be up to the committee to make this interpretation.
That is particularly important, because we have to be careful about possible abuse and we must limit such abuse by establishing clear benchmarks. Based on what we hear from the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and the Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, that aspect has not yet been taken seriously. The government must listen to the experts and to the opposition when it tries to improve this bill.
We still have some work to do to make this bill acceptable for this side of the House and for all Canadians. I hope that the government will co-operate with us in order to do so. It is in situations such as this that we need to set aside partisanship and work on behalf of the Canadians who elected us to represent them in this chamber.
I would like to come back to some specific examples that I have already mentioned several times, which could affect Canadians. Let us talk about employment insurance legislation, for example, the provisions relating to pilot-projects referred to the unemployment rate. Sometimes it is the national rate but usually, it is the regional rate. A database is needed in order to be able to quantify the rate. A lot of tables are used in the employment insurance regulations but, under this legislation, as things now stand, the minister could apply the regulations and their open incorporation by reference. The minister could also simply refer to tables or statistics from Statistics Canada.
Until just recently, until several months ago, people had to pay to get access to information from Statistics Canada. Unless they worked at a university or in a research facility that provided them with access, people had to pay out of their own pockets to get access to these statistics and data.
If the minister makes regulations in which there is open incorporation by reference to regional unemployment rates that are not accessible to Canadians free of charge, does that constitute reasonable access? Will people have to pay to show that they made a reasonable effort to obtain the information related to the section of the regulations that directly affects them?
Here is another question. How much will people have to pay to show that they made a reasonable effort? Will they have to pay $2.95, $10, $20, $100, $150? Right now, there is no way of knowing because accessibility and reasonable effort are not defined.
We have talked about different laws that can sometimes be linked to extraterritorial legislation or laws that apply outside the country. For example, this could be the case for laws affecting the Scott case, which pertained to a parent who took a child for whom he had joint custody out of the country.
A regulation that would affect legislation on this subject could refer to the laws in the country where that child is located. If the regulation makes an open reference, the person directly affected could have access, could consult the country's legislation to see whether the provisions are compatible with Canada's, and this could help the individual better understand the situation. In this case, the individual would have to access another country's website or legislation, which could be in another language.
This raises some questions. Does this prove accessibility? What kind of reasonable effort does the person have to show that they made to access these documents and this information? Will the person have to contact a foreign-language translator?
It is too vague for us as a party to decide whether we can support the bill. However, we think it is possible that closed—and even open—incorporation by reference helps improve accessibility.
Accessibility is at the heart of all of this. Notions such as reasonable effort must be better defined. We encourage the government to work with the official opposition and to work with all members of Parliament to ensure that we protect Canadians on this issue that affects them all. At the end of the day, we do not want them to end up in trouble or in a dangerous situation, in which they could end up being found guilty because they ignored the law or violated a specific regulation that they could not have reasonably had access to.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but it is difficult not to ignore a law if we do not know what the law is about.
I urge the government to define these very important notions. It is important to better define the elements in this bill. That is the message I want to send to the committee that will be examining this Senate bill.