Hon. Perrin Beatty (Wellington-Dufferin-Simcoe) moved:
That this House condemns the Government for its contempt for the taxpayers of Canada, which it demonstrates by the creation of a taxation system in the form of the Income Tax Act that is increasingly incomprehensible for individual taxpayers and, by its failure to end capricious and unfair practices of the Department of National Revenue.
He said: Mr. Speaker, as we begin this extraordinary day in which Members of Parliament from all sides of the House will have the opportunity to debate the issue of the Government's handling of the Department of National Revenue, 1 want to start with a quotation which 1 think perhaps should set the tone for the debate today. It explains fully what our responsibilities are in a democratic and free society when authority is abused by the state and its ordinary citizens and its Members of Parliament find that abuses have taken place. The quotation is this:
It follows that when authority in any form bullies a man unfairly, all other men are guilty; for it is their tacit assent that allows authority to commit the abuse. If they withdrew their consent, authority would collapse.
That quotation is from a book published by the Toronto Oxford University Press in 1970 called "Approaches to Politics". Its author is Mr. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the present Prime Minister of Canada. In that quotation the Prime Minister succintly outlined the approach that should be taken by all Members of Parliament when they find abuses of authority have taken place.
In the course of the past several days we have found that there is an agency in Canada which has extraordinary powers that no other agency has. This agency has the power to seize people's personal records, to invade their privacy, to damage their reputations in the community, to empty their bank account and to confiscate their pay cheques.
What is this agency, Mr. Speaker? It is not the police. It is not the new civilian security agency. It is the Department of National Revenue. This one Department has been given sweeping powers under the law which no other agency, no
other individual in society has, and which impact upon the civil liberties of every single Canadian.
First, the powers granted to this agency are far too broad at the outset. Second, what we have found, in documented case after documented case, is that the Department has taken authority unto itself and has abused the grant of authority given to it by Parliament. It has abused it to invade the privacy of ordinary Canadians. It has abused it to affect a person's ability to earn a living. It has abused it to take away basic civil liberty. We found as well, as a result of a succession of cases which have been made public both in the press and on the floor of the House of Commons, that we have a Minister of the Crown responsible for this Department who is neither aware of what has been done by his officials nor does he care about
In our system of government, our system of parliamentary responsible government, we have Ministers of the Crown who are accountable in the House of Commons precisely to ensure that Departments are held to account and that the authority granted to the Crown is properly used and not abused; that the civil rights of ordinary Canadians are respected by the state and that the rights of ordinary people, the unemployed, farmers, small business people, employees, senior citizens, are not abused; that people are treated with decency, with respect, with dignity and with compassion. Yet what we have found, Mr. Speaker, is that in instance after instance this Minister has allowed or encouraged his Department to treat ordinary Canadians in a way that is simply intolerable in a free society.
What Members on this side of the House have been attempting to do over the course of the last several months, and what the point of this debate is today, is either to force the Minister to accept his responsibility to the people of Canada or to force the Prime Minister of Canada to find a new Minister who is prepared to do the job.
There is an essential question here. Is the Minister of National Revenue (Mr. Bussieres) the Department's spokesman to the public, their apologist when things go wrong? Or is he the public's representative to the Department, the ombudsman when injustices take place, the guardian of the rights of ordinary Canadians? We believe that is the role the Minister should be playing. Instead, we have found that the Minister has simply been a defender of the Department at all costs, often giving false information, information that he subsequently learned was wrong and had to correct. In all innocence he would give this information because he simply did not have the facts.
January 19, 1984
That in itself is an indictment of the Minister's management of the Department. He is simply uninformed about what has been happening in his Department. More serious than that in the course of Question Period in recent days, is the Minister's abject refusal to get the truth and make it available to the Canadian people and the Parliament of Canada.
Over the course of several weeks, the Hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Speyer) and other colleagues on this side of the House have raised the issue of quotas that have been put in place in several district tax offices across the country, where tax assessors are being driven to maximize their take and to squeeze every last cent out of ordinary taxpayers irrespective of whether the money is in fact owed.
What happened when this was raised in the House of Commons? The first thing that happened was that every chartered accountancy firm in the City of Cambridge wrote to my colleague from Cambridge and said that they believed there was a quota system in place in the Kitchener district tax office. The Hon. Member for Cambridge quite properly raised that on the floor of the House of Commons and asked the Minister to reply.
What did the Minister say? He said that there were no such quotas. What did we learn later after the Minister had been informed that in fact quotas existed, a fact which the Minister now concedes? Then the Minister said it was only in Kitchener, that it was an isolated incident, that it did not take place anywhere else in the country, and that it was simply the one office in Kitchener where the officials got carried away. He said he had put a stop to this. Further, he said that to end these non-existent quotas which were not in place anywhere else in the country, he was sending out a directive to all district tax offices telling them that the practice was not to be permitted.
What did we learn after the Minister made the statement that it was only in Kitchener? We then learned that there were quotas in place in Toronto, a fact which has been conceded by the director of the district tax office, a fact which has been proven by documentary evidence, a fact which the Minister himself still refuses to concede to the House of Commons notwithstanding the documentary evidence presented to him. The Director General of Taxation has pointed out that in fact quotas have been in place in a number of offices. We have documentary evidence proving that in the case of the Calgary district tax office quotas have been in place there. Occasion after occasion we have had a continuing cover-up on the part of the Minister and of the Department attempting to withhold from Canadians the truth, and a willingness on the part of the Minister to leave information which he knows to be false on the record. Canadians deserve better than that.
I think it is a fair question to ask the Minister why he issued a directive to all district tax offices saying that there were to be no quotas, that they were wrong and that under no circumstances were district tax offices to have quotas. Why has he repeatedly said, both to the press and in the House of Commons, that he is opposed to quotas and will do everything he
can to ensure that they are stopped? If quotas are innocuous, if they have not damaged the rights of Canadians and if they have not damaged the position of the assessors themselves and treated them unfairly, why would the Minister be this concerned and take this extraordinary action to put a stop to them and insist to the House that no quotas would be permitted under his administration?
The answer is that the Minister accepts that in fact quotas are dangerous, that they take away people's rights, that they are unjust both to the assessors who are forced to wring money out of people whether or not it is owed, and that they are unjust as well to ordinary Canadians who find that they are unfairly reassessed as a result of quotas being in place. It is unjust for an assessor to be told that if he wants to get ahead, get promoted, get a merit increase or even hang on to his job, he has to meet some arbitrary quotas set by the officials over him. The Minister believes that is wrong, and we agree.
A second question arises: If the Minister feels that people's civil rights are invaded by the imposition of quotas, why does he not agree that Canadians who have had their rights affected by these quotas and have been unfairly reassessed as a result of them have the right to know whether or not quotas have been in place in their local district tax offices? Why the cover-up. Why is the Minister not prepared to table in the House of Commons a list of all offices in which quotas have been in place? Indeed, why would the Minister not accept his responsibilities as a Minister and actively and vigorously find out for himself in which offices quotas have been in place to make sure that those whose rights have been affected could seek redress? Any Minister of the Crown who was doing his job and knew that injustices had taken place under his administration would have a responsibility to set the record straight, to tell the truth and do whatever he could to ensure that people's rights were respected and the abuses stopped. Yet this Minister still refuses.
Under this Minister, we have seen cases of extraordinary actions being taken by the Department. For example, an attempt was made by the Department to ask for the whole of a computerized data base belonging to a municipality. Here again the Minister said he was unaware of this, that it was simply a matter of a local district office overstepping itself, that he could not be expected to know and that he would put a stop to it.
What does this Minister know? What has he been doing? What is the Minister's responsibility to make sure that local offices follow policy and respect the rights of Canadians, including the right to privacy? What has he done to discharge his responsibilities to Parliament and the people of Canada? On the record, he has done nothing. What we have had is abuses of which the Minister was unaware and of which he remains unconcerned.
What about his Liberal colleagues? Members on this side of the House have been deluged for the past year with complaints from our constituents, from pensioners, ordinary people with
January 19, 1984
handicaps who find that the Department of National Revenue literally does not want them to be able to stand on their own two feet. If they can, they lose the disability deduction. Small businesses have been forced to close as a result of arbitrary reassessment. Tax collectors have used bully-boy techniques which have denied the rights of ordinary Canadians.
Members on this side could list literally dozens of cases where ordinary Canadians have had their rights abused. What about Members on the other side? Have they not been hearing from their constituents? Do people approach only members in the Opposition because they feel there is no point talking to members of the Government, that Liberal Members will not fight for them? Is it a matter that Liberal Members are indeed aware of this, that their constituents are affected in exactly the same way as ours but they have been incapable of getting the Minister to accept his responsibility to protect the rights of their constituents?
Two members on the Liberal side have spoken out. The Hon. Member for Kitchener (Mr. Lang), who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, spoke out to say that the Department was wrong, that it was an abuse and that the Minister had to step in to correct the abuse. We give him credit for doing that.
Second, the Hon. Member for Sudbury (Mr. Frith) was in Calgary last week. He was quoted in the Calgary Herald as follows:
Frith said he will ask Revenue Minister Pierre Bussieres to act and will raise the whole issue of government control of tax officials at the next meeting of the Liberal caucus.
That was yesterday.
I think we have to assert the political will on top of the Revenue Canada Department and just say "Back Off', he said.
Was this raised in the Liberal caucus yesterday? Did Liberal Members of Parliament speak up on behalf of their constituents? If so, what action is the Minister of National Revenue prepared to take in response to his colleagues who have been receiving the same complaints we have about abuses of the basic civil rights of Canadians? None? Is he too prideful to admit that he has been wrong, that people's rights have been abused, or is he prepared to correct the situation? That is the issue that is before the House today.
What can we do? What could this Minister do if he were serious about trying to protect the right of Canadians? First, he could strike an independent task force on the powers of Revenue Canada to look at those powers as they affect civil liberties in Canada, and to make recommendations for amendments to the Act under which the Department operates to constrain those powers to ways that respect the rights of Canadians.
Second, he could take a fresh look at the Act which currently states that if you, Mr. Speaker, have your income tax return reassessed, you have a responsibility to pay all the money being demanded by the Department, whether you owe it or not. If you do not do that, the Government has given the Department the right to step in and seize your bank account, or your pay cheque, or to issue third party demands to anyone
who owes you any money. On those third party demands you will find your social insurance number printed and you will find the amount of money that you are alleged by the Department to owe, without any element of due process. Try repairing your reputation in the community after that.
I had a case that came to my attention over Christmas of a doctor who had third party demands issued on 40 of his patients demanding that they pay directly to the Department money that they owed the doctor. He asks how he can rebuild the doctor-patient relationship and the basis of trust that he needs with his patients. The Department is telling 40 of his patients that he is a crook. All that he is asking for is justice, a chance for his day in court. We are attempting to fight the Government in court but every time we have gone to court the Department has asked for delay. He is at least entitled to his day in court and not have his reputation impugned in this way and his professional relationship with his patients destroyed. The Department got less than $1,000 from these 40 third party demands. Yet the doctor's reputation has been besmirched and his relationship with his patients has been permanently damaged. All he seeks is a chance for his day in court. If it is found that he owes the money, he will pay the money; but he wants a chance for due process of law and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Surely nothing is more central to our system of justice than that.
There is another thing the Minister could do, Mr. Speaker. He could issue directives to his officials and issue a publication that would go to every taxpayer in Canada, in essence a plain language statement of the rights of the taxpayers of Canada. These are the right to fair treatment; the right to sit down and negotiate with the Department a fair schedule of repayment if the taxpayer has made a mistake; the right to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty; and the right to privacy.
Subtopic: BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic: ALLOTTED DAY, S.O. 62-NON-CONFIDENCE MOTION-TAXATION