An Act to provide for the maintenance of west coast ports operations

This bill was last introduced in the 35th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in February 1996.

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Criminal Code
Government Orders

May 3rd, 2007 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak today at the report stage of Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal Code.

When this bill was introduced and read the first time in May 2006, the government's goal was to toughen the Criminal Code by imposing minimum sentences for criminal offences involving firearms.

My Quebec colleagues and I carefully read and analysed this bill and quickly pointed out numerous flaws that prevented us from supporting the bill at second reading.

When the bill went to committee—and I want to commend my colleagues from Hochelaga and Châteauguay—Saint-Constant on their work—the committee rejected the clauses on minimum sentences.

We in the Bloc Québécois believe that adopting the automatic minimum sentences proposed by the Conservative government is detrimental and ineffective and will not help improve public safety, which is something that this government and we ourselves want.

Even though we have taken pains to explain why we are opposed to minimum sentences and have rejected these clauses in committee, the government is presenting us with the same clauses again today by way of amendments.

Obviously the Conservative government still does not understand that its approach is ineffective and will not decrease the crime rate and the recidivism rate, as it hopes.

As usual, the government is offering simplistic solutions, motivated by its electoral objectives, without taking into account possible solutions, and especially ones that are geared towards concrete and positive results.

So, this report stage gives us another opportunity to explain the reasons we reject the amendments proposed by the government, and we hope to convince them, once again, and try to wake them up to a new approach to crime.

When the then minister tabled Bill C-10 in May 2006, he said that the bill was in response to a crime rate that had, according to him, been increasing in Canada in recent years. Is this true? How many times have we heard members of the Conservative government tell us that society has never been this violent, that crime has never been so widespread, that crime rates are on the rise? But this is not true.

The statistics gathered by Statistics Canada—which this government has access to, and which I hope it takes the time to examine—show that crime, and in particular violent crime, has actually been decreasing since 1992.

Clearly the government is offering solutions based on false premises. Even worse—and the Bloc Québécois is completely convinced of this—they are damaging, ineffective and will not contribute at all to truly improving public safety.

Let us now look more closely at the solutions proposed by the government. The Conservative ministers and members keep telling us that minimum sentences will help fight crime more effectively.

Numerous studies have shown that minimum sentences have a dubious impact in the fight against crime.

One study done in 1997 by the federal Minister of Justice found that the mandatory prison sentences introduced in a number of western countries had no measurable effect on crime rates. I am sure that the government is aware of this study because when it introduces a bill, it must learn as much as it can and go over the studies.

In a press conference and before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Minister of Justice acknowledged that no Canadian study has demonstrated that new measures to introduce minimum penalties are effective in fighting crime.

As legislators, we all want to improve our laws to make our citizens safer. I believe that all members of this House want to do that. However, new measures must be supported by studies that demonstrate they are effective.

Clearly, the government has been unable to prove that the measures in the bill are effective. Rather, it has shown that its vision is based on a simplistic, populist ideology that has obviously sought too much inspiration in the American model. The American model imposes harsher penalties and puts more people in prison, yet the homicide rate is three times higher there than it is here. The Conservatives should be able to understand that the government will not reduce the crime rate by filling up our prisons and building new ones, which is what the Americans have been doing.

It is important to note that Canada puts far fewer people in jail than the United States does. According to the most recent statistics, Canada incarcerates 116 people per 100,000 while the United States incarcerates 702 people per 100,000. As I said before, the homicide rate is three times higher in the United States than it is here. How can anyone suggest that the American method works? Obviously, it does not, as the studies have shown.

As my colleague, the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, already mentioned, criminals do not read legislation and do not know what the minimum sentences are. When they are planning a crime, their only concern is not getting caught. According to criminologists and experts on criminal behaviour, the criminal mind is convinced that there is no risk of being caught. From that perspective, the threat of a longer prison sentence would have no impact on that individual.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, as well as being ineffective, minimum sentences can also have a negative impact. I will share an example given by a renowned criminologist. Incidentally, the Conservative government should have hired a few such experts, since there seems to be a lack of real analysis here. So, according to André Normandeau, a criminologist at the Université de Montréal, minimum sentences can encourage judges to acquit an individual, rather than be forced to sentence that individual to a penalty the judge considers excessive under the circumstances, for cases in which an appropriate penalty would be a conditional sentence, community service or a few weeks in jail.

We must also fight against poverty, inequality and the sense of exclusion, which are all significant factors in the emergence of crime. These are the areas on which we should be focusing our efforts.

I am convinced that measures to prevent crime are more effective, although we cannot overlook the importance of imposing severe penalties when the crime committed is recognized as extremely serious. We had a preventive measure, but unfortunately, the government preferred to render it less effective.

Instead of waiting until it is too late, the Conservative government should reconsider.