Bill C-10 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
Vic Toews Conservative
Not active, as of May 30, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to provide for escalating minimum penalties according to the number, if any, of previous convictions for serious offences involving the use of a firearm if the firearm is either a restricted or prohibited firearm or if the offence was committed in connection with a criminal organization, to provide for escalating minimum penalties according to the number, if any, of previous convictions for other firearm-related offences and to create two new offences: breaking and entering to steal a firearm and robbery to steal a firearm.
- May 29, 2007 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
- May 7, 2007 Passed That Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, as amended, be concurred in at report stage with further amendments.
- May 7, 2007 Passed That Bill C-10 be amended by restoring Clause 17 as follows: “17. Section 239 of the Act is replaced by the following: 239. (1) Every person who attempts by any means to commit murder is guilty of an indictable offence and liable (a) if a restricted firearm or prohibited firearm is used in the commission of the offence or if any firearm is used in the commission of the offence and the offence is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization, to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of (i) in the case of a first offence, five years, (ii) in the case of a second offence, seven years, and (iii) in the case of a third or subsequent offence, ten years; (a.1) in any other case where a firearm is used in the commission of the offence, to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of four years; and (b) in any other case, to imprisonment for life. (2) In determining, for the purpose of paragraph (1)(a), whether a convicted person has committed a second, third or subsequent offence, if the person was earlier convicted of any of the following offences, that offence is to be considered as an earlier offence: (a) an offence under this section; (b) an offence under subsection 85(1) or (2) or section 244; or (c) an offence under section 220, 236, 272 or 273, subsection 279(1) or section 279.1, 344 or 346 if a firearm was used in the commission of the offence. However, an earlier offence shall not be taken into account if ten years have elapsed between the day on which the person was convicted of the earlier offence and the day on which the person was convicted of the offence for which sentence is being imposed, not taking into account any time in custody. (3) For the purposes of subsection (2), the only question to be considered is the sequence of convictions and no consideration shall be given to the sequence of commission of offences or whether any offence occurred before or after any conviction.”
- May 7, 2007 Passed That the Motion proposing to restore Clause 17 of Bill C-10 be amended: (a) by substituting the following for subparagraphs 239(1)(a)(ii) and (iii) contained in that Motion: “(ii) in the case of a second or subsequent offence, seven years;” (b) by substituting, in the English version, the following for the portion of subsection 239(2) before paragraph (a) contained in that Motion: “(2) In determining, for the purpose of paragraph (1)(a), whether a convicted person has committed a second or subsequent offence, if the person was earlier convicted of any of the following offences, that offence is to be considered as an earlier offence:”.
- May 7, 2007 Passed That Bill C-10 be amended by restoring Clause 2 as follows: “2. (1) Paragraph 85(1)(a) of the Act is replaced by the following: (a) while committing an indictable offence, other than an offence under section 220 (criminal negligence causing death), 236 (manslaughter), 239 (attempted murder), 244 (discharging firearm with intent), 272 (sexual assault with a weapon) or 273 (aggravated sexual assault), subsection 279(1) (kidnapping) or section 279.1 (hostage-taking), 344 (robbery) or 346 (extortion), (2) Paragraphs 85(3)(b) and (c) of the Act are replaced by the following: (b) in the case of a second offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of three years; and (c) in the case of a third or subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of five years.”
- May 7, 2007 Passed That the Motion proposing to restore Clause 2 of Bill C-10 be amended by substituting the following for paragraphs 85(3)(b) and (c) contained in that Motion: “(b) in the case of a second or subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of three years.”.
- May 7, 2007 Passed That Bill C-10 be amended by restoring Clause 1 as follows: “1. Section 84 of the Criminal Code is amended by adding the following after subsection (4): (5) In determining, for the purposes of any of subsections 85(3), 95(2), 96(2) and 98(4), section 98.1 and subsections 99(2), 100(2), 102(2), 103(2) and 117.01(3), whether a convicted person has committed a second, third or subsequent offence, if the person was earlier convicted of any of the following offences, that offence is to be considered as an earlier offence: (a) an offence under section 85, 95, 96, 98, 98.1, 99, 100, 102 or 103 or subsection 117.01(1); (b) an offence under section 244; or (c) an offence under section 220, 236, 239, 272 or 273, subsection 279(1) or section 279.1, 344 or 346 if a firearm was used in the commission of the offence. However, an earlier offence shall not be taken into account if ten years have elapsed between the day on which the person was convicted of the earlier offence and the day on which the person was convicted of the offence for which sentence is being imposed, not taking into account any time in custody. (6) For the purposes of subsection (5), the only question to be considered is the sequence of convictions and no consideration shall be given to the sequence of commission of offences or whether any offence occurred before or after any conviction.”
- May 7, 2007 Passed That the Motion proposing to restore Clause 1 of Bill C-10 be amended by substituting the following for the portion of subsection 84(5) before paragraph (a) contained in that Motion: “(5) In determining, for the purposes of any of subsections 85(3), 95(2), 99(2), 100(2) and 103(2), whether a convicted person has committed a second or subsequent offence, if the person was earlier convicted of any of the following offences, that offence is to be considered as an earlier offence:”.
- May 7, 2007 Passed That Bill C-10 be amended by restoring the long title as follows: “An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act”
- June 13, 2006 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)
October 27th, 2014 / 12:45 p.m.
Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government, with its continued use of mandatory minimums, seems to be saying, in part, that it does not trust judges to review the evidence before them and use their knowledge, expertise, and long history in the courts to make the appropriate determination about what an appropriate sentence would be. By imposing mandatory minimums, in this particular case, it continues that line of reasoning and thought that seems to be evident in so many other pieces of legislation we have seen before the House.
Serious concerns have been raised, with regard to Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill that was referenced, and a number of other bills, that the Conservatives continue to undermine the ability of judges to make appropriate decisions.
If there are judges who are completely outside the norm in sentencing, there are other ways of dealing with it other than putting mandatory minimums in bill after bill.
Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)
October 27th, 2014 / 12:40 p.m.
Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Mr. Speaker, I want to spend a bit more time pursuing the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. The member noted in her speech that there was a body of academic literature that said that these were completely ineffective.
In reviewing the literature at the time we were reviewing what was then the omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10, in the fall of 2011, I could not find a single peer reviewed, academic paper that suggested any benefit whatsoever to mandatory minimum sentences. It was not just some academic papers, as far as I could find, but all of them.
I wonder if my friend has seen any evidence whatsoever that mandatory minimum sentences are anything other than, as she suggested the right-wing centre in the U.S. has now concluded, good intentions going toward an ineffective policy.
March 4th, 2014 / 7 p.m.
David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON
There's no respect here.
My last example is that it's not always just the number of cities you visit that decides whether it's democratic or not, because not everything needs to go everywhere, i.e., for Bill C-15 nobody outside the Northwest Territories was pounding the table saying, you didn't come and see me.
Nova Scotia wasn't all upset that they didn't have a chance to make comment on Bill C-15. They may have had comments if it affected them in a government-to-government situation or could have constitutional impacts, but in terms of being the primary focus of who you'd want to hear from, I'd be surprised if there was anybody outside the Northwest Territories who was upset that no one was visited.
We've seen other committees that have pan-Canadian implications and those committees respected that, those countries respected that. Even Zimbabwe was on that list of governments that were willing to listen to their people. But it's not just the number, it's what's appropriate to the time, to the moment, to what's in front of us.
Let me give you an example that doesn't have a long exhaustive list, but shows how strategically they still left the Ottawa bubble to go and hear from Canadians. In the 39th Parliament, first session, the justice and human rights committee did a study of Bill C-10 and they had one meeting.
Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
February 15th, 2013 / 1:10 p.m.
Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to support this bill on behalf of the people in my riding of Pontiac. A good housecleaning in this area can only help businesses in particular.
Bill C-48 implements over a decade of highly technical amendments to our tax system. I believe that these changes will have a positive impact on revenues and that they will generally discourage tax avoidance, which is an important element.
The very size of this bill shows that the government must manage the tax system in a more responsible manner. It must ensure in particular that it periodically passes legislation on proposed tax measures. Otherwise, there will be greater uncertainty for business people and tax experts, and it will be almost impossible for parliamentarians to deal with such lengthy bills.
I also want to point out the importance of guaranteeing the integrity of the tax system. Moreover, I believe that we must eliminate unanticipated tax loopholes in a timely manner. We must also consider the increasing complexity of tax laws and insist on the need to simplify them over time.
Like my fellow New Democrats, I think we must fight tax avoidance and tax evasion while preserving the integrity of our tax system. That is why I support the changes being made in this bill, especially those that aim to stop tax avoidance. It is a significant loss of revenue for the state, and that revenue is essential to support our social programs, which reflect the values of all Canadians.
Still, at nearly 1,000 pages, this bill is the perfect example of an omnibus bill. Fortunately, unlike the monster budget bills that contain badly designed and poorly conceived policies, this bill makes technical amendments to several closely related acts.
This bill's massive size is proof that there is still some work to be done in transforming such technical amendments into legislation and, as I said, doing that with good speed. Not doing that penalizes businesses and complicates Parliament's tasks. And that has a cost.
The harder it is for businesses to find their way around the country's tax laws and pay their taxes, the less effort they will make to pay their fair and responsible share of taxes. It is these taxes that the state uses to redistribute revenue and help the neediest people in our society and anyone who runs into problems.
In the fall of 2009, the Auditor General reported that there were more than 400 technical amendments that had been proclaimed but had not yet been enacted in legislation. Bill C-48 will enact more than 200 of these changes, or about half, but the others will be left in limbo. When can we expect to see those 200 amendments become law?
We may all wonder what is causing this delay. When the Liberals were in power, they, too, took some time integrating the technical amendments into tax law. The most recent enactment of a technical tax bill was in 2001, more than a decade ago.
I wonder why the Liberals did not pass such technical taxation bills regularly after 2001. They may have an answer. The Conservatives, too, have taken their time transforming these technical amendments into legislation.
Bill C-48 is designed to implement more than 200 of these changes. However, it is crucial that the other 200 be enacted and that the integrity of our tax system be maintained. The Conservatives should try to do a better job of incorporating these technical amendments into the legislation.
Compliance is a key aspect of maintaining the integrity of our tax system. What is the government doing to ensure that people comply with the technical changes being made in the tax system? We have not yet had an answer to that question.
The official opposition has consulted tax professionals and lawyers, who have told us that the technical changes in Bill C-48 are largely beneficial and necessary, but that there are not enough of them. That said, there have been other attempts to pass technical tax bills.
For example, Bill C-10 was introduced in October 2007 and was quickly passed by the House of Commons, but it had not passed the Senate committee stage when the 39th Parliament was dissolved in September 2008.
Governments have not been acting quickly enough. And that costs Canadian companies and taxpayers money. We want the government to act more quickly when it comes to tax changes, and we want these changes to be tabled more often. Many experts agree with us. For example, here is a quote from the Auditor General:
If proposed technical changes are not tabled regularly, the volume of amendments becomes difficult for taxpayers, tax practitioners, and parliamentarians to absorb when they are grouped into a large package....
In the 1991 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 2, we expressed concerns that income tax comfort letters were given without public announcement. In response, the Department of Finance Canada stated that “the government intends to release a package of income tax technical amendments on an annual basis, so that taxpayers will not be subject to more lengthy waiting periods as in the past before amendments are released to the public.”... comfort letters have since been regularly released to the public...
Denis Saint-Pierre, the chair of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Advisory Group for the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, said the following in committee:
First, the government must introduce a technical tax amendments bill. The last time a technical tax bill was passed by Parliament was over 11 years ago. Literally hundreds of unlegislated tax amendments to the Income Tax Act—which I showed this committee last year...—have been proposed, but not yet enacted, which brings uncertainty and unpredictability to the process.
In its 2012 prebudget submission—not too long ago—the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada said:
CGA-Canada strongly believes that the key to sustained economic recovery [the question was about economic recovery] and enhanced economic growth lies in the government’s commitment to tax reform and red tape reduction.
It is clear that we must take action that is in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers, to develop a tax system that makes sense and serves everyone.
Private Members' Business
February 27th, 2009 / 1:55 p.m.
Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
This bill would add a new offence to the Criminal Code. It would distinguish offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of 18 years from those involving adults.
The goal of this bill is to impose a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of five years for anyone found guilty of trafficking a person under the age of 18.
This bill is simple enough. There are eight clauses, but the heart of the bill is in the second clause, in its creation of a new offence in the Criminal Code, namely, section 279.011. The wording in this provision is exactly the same as section 279.01, regarding the trafficking of a person, but adds the distinction “under the age of eighteen years” to the definition of an exploited person. With this addition, a separate offence would be created when the trafficking involves a minor.
Although we are well aware of the worldwide scourge that is human trafficking, the Bloc Québécois cannot support this bill. Allow me to explain the reasons for its decision.
In 2005, the Bloc Québécois voted in support of Bill C-49. Creating an offence to specifically condemn human trafficking was necessary, and we willingly cooperated to see it passed. The amendment to the Criminal Code gave law enforcement authorities the legal tools they need to prosecute and convict anyone who unfortunately engages in these horrible practices that show no respect for human dignity.
Bill C-268, however, we believe is a step in the wrong direction. By automatically imposing a minimum sentence of five years on anyone convicted of the trafficking of persons under 18, the government is not solving anything. I will explain why.
First of all, many experts have established that minimum sentences have negative effects and dubious value when it comes to fighting crime.
For instance, criminal lawyer Julian Roberts, from the University of Ottawa, conducted a study in 1997 for the Department of Justice of Canada in which he concluded:
Although mandatory sentences of imprisonment have been introduced in a number of western nations... the studies that have examined the impact of these laws reported variable effects on prison populations and no discernible effect on crime rates.
In early May 2006, during a press conference on the controversial passing of Bill C-10, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety at the time were forced to acknowledge that no Canadian study has demonstrated that new measures to introduce minimum penalties are effective in fighting crime.
Minimum sentences can also have a negative impact. According to André Normandeau, a criminologist at the Université de Montréal, minimum sentences can encourage plea bargaining by lawyers wanting to have their clients charged with offences that do not have minimum sentences. Minimum sentences can also force judges to acquit an individual, rather than be forced to sentence that individual to a penalty the judge considers excessive under the circumstances.
When it comes to sentencing, the first consideration must be individualization. The justification of this individualized approach lies in the principle of proportionality. The sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. This is because no two crimes are identical, no two offenders are exactly alike and no two sets of circumstances are exactly the same. For all those reasons, the Bloc Québécois believes in the importance of maintaining judicial discretion.
When judges sentence an offender to prison, they take into account the offender's degree of responsibility, the seriousness of the offence and the best way to serve justice while maximizing the likelihood of rehabilitation.
People who know only the offence and the sentence often do not realize that there are other important factors that must be taken into account in sentencing.
Moreover, studies have shown that when people have the chance to go beyond what is reported in the media, the body of evidence and the factors considered by the judge, most conclude that they would have handed down a similar sentence.
The Bloc Québécois is therefore opposed to mandatory minimum sentences because it believes in the justice system and the importance of maintaining judicial discretion. We believe that judges, who are best able to assess the information presented in court, have to be free to decide.
In addition, Bill C-268 is not consistent. It does not provide for a minimum sentence when an offender found guilty of trafficking of a minor kidnaps, commits an aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault against or causes death to the victim during the commission of the offence. The bill does not change the subsection that covers this.
We are having a hard time understanding the logic behind Bill C-268. On the one hand, they say that they want to prevent serious offences involving the trafficking of minors by imposing minimum sentences, but on the other, they are not changing sentences for offenders who use extreme violence in committing the crime.
To ensure the most appropriate court rulings possible, we would be wise to look at recommendation 33 of the House Standing Committee on the Status of Women's report on human trafficking. Judges and prosecutors should be informed of, educated about, and made aware of the Criminal Code provisions concerning human trafficking and the disastrous impact of this crime on its victims.
When it comes to justice, the Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the most effective approach is still, and will always be, prevention. We have to attack crime at the root. That being said, the Bloc is aware that the existing legal system needs considerable improvement, and that some changes to the Criminal Code are necessary. The government's duty is to intervene and use the tools at its disposal to make sure that people can live peacefully and safely.
On June 15, 2007, in response to the Conservatives' ideological approach, the Bloc Québécois recommended a number of measures. The party proposed a series of recommendations for major changes to Canada's justice system. Unlike the Conservatives' measures, which lacked nuance, the Bloc's measures reflected the concerns of Quebeckers, who want a more balanced system, one that is consistent with modern realities and will have a real impact on crime, but that avoids the pitfalls inherent in the repression-based American model, whose negative effects are manifest.
The Bloc Québécois proposed measures that are in line with Quebeckers' values, measures based on prevention, rehabilitation, social and economic integration, and better distribution of wealth. Our proposals included the following: streamlining the parole system, stepping up the fight against organized crime, eliminating double credit for time served before sentencing—which British Columbia's Minister of Justice supports—and more funding for the national crime prevention strategy.
The Bloc Québécois does not support the bill because we believe its approach is harmful and ineffective and we are convinced that it will do nothing to improve the safety of citizens. The Bloc defends a model of justice based on a process tailored to each case and founded on the principle of rehabilitation. Any measure seeking to automate the nature of the sentence given to the offender represents, in our opinion, a dangerous approach. Minimum sentences unnecessarily tie the hands of judges who, we believe, remain in the best position to determine what sentence is the most appropriate in light of all the facts of the case.
In closing, experts tell us that minimum sentences do not lower crime rates or the rate of recidivism.
Tackling Violent Crime Legislation
February 11th, 2008 / 3:55 p.m.
Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board
Mr. Speaker, the compelling nature of the tackling violent crime act is illustrated more clearly by the fact that every party in this House is pretending to support it today. This party has always supported the contents of the tackling violent crime act. The Liberals have always opposed it, as have the Bloc and the NDP.
However, they know that their constituents profoundly support the principles contained inside that bill and, as such, have twisted themselves into knots today to pretend that they, too, support the Conservative tackling crime agenda. However, let us review their records before we give them a free ride.
In opposition, our party continually fought to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 to protect teenagers from adult sexual predators. The Liberals consistently, over 13 years, blocked those changes while in government. The NDP were of no help, I will mention by the way, during that time either.
On the issue of mandatory minimum penalties, the Liberals opposed those in government, opposed them even in opposition, but are pretending to support them now in order to try to pacify the immense public sympathy that exists for the provision. On dangerous offender status, the Liberals and the rest of the opposition have opposed our initiatives.
The bill, as well, addresses issues such as impaired driving and reverse onus on bail.
I am going to go through the elements of this bill one by one, but I am going to begin by making a very clear procedural point.
The Liberals claim that they were willing to fast track all of this legislation long ago. Even if they were telling the truth, and they are not, why is it that the Liberal Senate will not pass the legislation today?
Once again, if they were willing to fast track the legislation months ago, surely, they would be willing to adopt the legislation today, but they are not.
Let us examine, piece by piece, what it is that the Liberals have been obstructing for so many months. Let us start with mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences.
To begin with, this legislation was introduced as its own bill in May 2006, almost two years ago. Now, the Liberals claim that they were just about to get around to passing that bill through the Senate when the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament some months ago. However, if they were really interested in passing that legislation, why did they not do it months before, given that it had been introduced almost two years earlier? The reason is they do not support our toughened measures to crack down on gun criminals.
On the issue of age of protection, this member sitting right next to me, the member for Wild Rose, pleaded with the then Liberal government to increase the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. The Liberal government consistently blocked all of those efforts because the Liberal Party believed that 14 was old enough.
On the issue of dangerous offenders, Liberals stood in the House of Commons and said that our tough new measures to designate three-time violent or sexual criminals as dangerous offenders and then put them away indefinitely would violate the constitutional rights of the criminal. That is what Liberals argued. That is what many Liberals continue to argue. Now, they claim that they supported the bill. They cannot have it both ways.
Let me return to mandatory jail time for gun criminals. I would just turn the House's attention to the fact that while the Liberals claim that they support that legislation now, the vast majority of them, in fact, almost all of them, voted against mandatory jail for gun criminals. The Liberals consistently opposed Bill C-10, the then mandatory jail time bill. So, now they claim that they are in favour of it in order to mask the soft on crime position that they have historically taken. That is intellectually dishonest.
Mandatory jail time provisions that are now in the tackling violent crime act would guarantee that a gun criminal would have five years in jail for his first offence and seven years for the second offence. The bill would take the most violent and dangerous gun criminals off the street and ensure that they cannot wreak havoc on our communities any longer.
I would remind the House that the bill in its previous form sat before Parliament for almost two years before prorogation. It had been blocked in the Senate for months upon months when finally the Prime Minister did the responsible thing and bundled it in with other legislation that is also tough on crime and forced it through the chamber.
On the issue of the age of sexual consent, Liberals now claim that they are in favour of raising the age of sexual consent after 13 years of opposing that change.
However, there was a little problem in the Senate. Senator Carstairs apparently did not get the memo. She thought that Liberals were still being honest about their view on the age of sexual consent. She thought that she could tell people what she really thought and her real belief on the issue of the age of sexual consent. She did not hear from the Liberal leader that she was meant to perform a spectacular reversal and hide her real thoughts. She said this on Mike Duffy Live just recently: “The other issue is the whole age of consent issue. I am concerned that this may prevent young women and young men from reporting sexually transmitted diseases. I am concerned that it might put a chill on family life education programs. I am concerned that young prostitutes will be driven underground by this legislation”.
To begin with, prostitution, the last time I checked, is already illegal, so it is already driven underground. Second, I have no idea what Liberal Senator Carstairs means when she suggests that somehow raising the age of sexual consent to prevent adult pedophiles from targeting young kids will cause greater transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. I have no idea what she could possibly mean by that.
However, she removed the veil. She admitted that she opposes the Conservative effort to raise the age of sexual consent. She revealed where Liberals have always stood. The Liberals believe that the age of sexual consent should be 14. We believe it should be 16. That is why our government has been forced to make this a confidence issue.
The Liberal strategy on crime has been quite an interesting one. It has been to privately and procedurally oppose the tough new measures without publicly admitting those intentions. In fact, on the one hand while Liberals oppose the tackling violent crime act procedurally, they storm around pretending publicly that they are in favour of it.
We will not let them get away with that any longer. The Prime Minister packaged together the tackling violent crime act and shone the spotlight on Liberal hypocrisy on crime. All of a sudden, we have them moving over there. We have struck a hornet's nest because members of the Liberal caucus are now scattered around the House of Commons trying to convince the whole world that they always supported the Conservative agenda on crime, that they never really opposed it, and that their delays never really occurred.
I hope that this backtracking in the Liberal Party will take itself all the way up to the Senate. One thing is for sure, if the Liberal Senate will not bring the tackling violent crime act back to the House of Commons unamended by the end of the month, members of the Liberal Party will have to explain their behaviour on crime to voters in an imminent election.That is the simple reality. Does everyone know what that is called? It is called accountability.
If Liberals want to be soft on crime in a free country, it is their right to take that wrong-headed position. They have the right to their wrong opinion. However, it is the right of the Canadian voter to hold them accountable for that position and accountable they will be. More importantly, I believe that the Liberal Senate will back down and pass the bill because it is the right thing to do and Canadians are forcing the Liberal Party to change on crime.
Let us review the contents of this legislation. First, there would be mandatory jail time for gun criminals. This provision in the tackling violent crime act would guarantee that offenders convicted of gun crimes would go to jail for five years the first time and seven years the second time.
It would create new offences: attempted murder, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, extortion, hostage taking and discharging a firearm with intent. All of these are new firearms offences that augment existing offences in the Criminal Code. These new offences would guarantee that criminals are held to account for their gun crimes.
This legislation has the support of the chiefs of police, police associations, and it even has the support of the Liberal Premier of Ontario. The only one who does not support it is the Liberal leader and the vast majority of his caucus who voted against it when it came before the House of Commons. The Liberal Party has never supported these measures, but we are changing that by putting the spotlight on it.
Changing the age of protection and the age of sexual consent is responding to the call of parents right across this country who want us to help them protect their kids from sexual predators. In my constituency, numerous police officers have approached me and said that this tool would help them protect local Nepean—Carleton kids against Internet child predators.
The appeals that police officers, like Ray Lamarre of Nepean, have made to me has caused me to summon all of my energy in order to achieve that change to our Criminal Code. I have been collecting petitions in my constituency. I even launched an essay writing contest for young people to participate in to explain the ideas they had to protect other kids from the scourge of Internet pedophilia.
However, the one change in our Criminal Code that experts all across this country, and by experts I refer to police officers and parents not sociology professors and defence lawyers, all of the real experts want the age of sexual consent raised from 14 to 16.
That might not accord with the values of the Liberal Party. The Liberal leader has a history of believing in strange academic theories that flow from his time as an aloof sociology professor and all of that is very interesting in some strange academic circle, but among everyday people, and we know the folks I am talking about, those who work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules, raising the age of sexual consent is basic common sense.
I am very proud to support the tackling violent crime act. Given that most of this legislation has been before the House of Commons and Senate for months, and some of it has been here for years, there is no reason for any more delay. At this point, now that we have illustrated the necessity of passing the tackling violent crime act, let us get to the unfortunate political obstacle that sits in front of us.
We have a Liberal Party that secretly opposes the bill and is asking its friends in the Senate to do its dirty work. Liberals claim that they were willing to fast track all of this legislation months ago in a procedural stunt that the Speaker has indicated never would have been allowed.
However, let us assume for a moment that they were sincere about fast-tracking this legislation. If they really wanted to fast-track our tackling violent crime legislation seven or eight months ago, clearly they should have no problem fast-tracking it today. Why do they not? Why does Liberal Senator Carstairs, who is part of the radical left of the Liberal Party, stomp her feet, scream and holler that she cannot possibly do her job between now and March because it is not enough time, if her party claimed it was willing to fast-track all this legislation seven or eight months ago?
There is a logical inconsistency here and that speaks to the nature of the Liberal Party saying one thing in public and playing a different game in the dark halls of the Senate. These games they are playing will not go unnoticed by crime victims. They have not gone unnoticed by voters. Voters see that the Liberals are using the radical wing of their party through Liberal Senator Carstairs to block the tackling violent crime legislation and to oppose its measures from coming into effect.
A Liberal Senator has argued that raising the age of sexual consent would somehow cause sexually transmitted diseases to spread all across the country. That is Liberal Senator Carstairs. That woman could not be elected dog catcher, which is why she is in the Liberal Senate. She has absolutely no popular appeal among ordinary folks and yet--
Tackling Violent Crime Legislation
February 11th, 2008 / 1:25 p.m.
Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Mr. Speaker, let us look at some of the facts concerning these bills. The age of consent bill, Bill C-22 in the last Parliament, was introduced by the government on June 22, 2006. The government moved second reading on October 30, 2006, and only sent it to committee on March 21, 2007. That bill, which we offered to fast track in October 2006 and which could have been the law in December 2006, only was adopted at third reading in the House on May 4, 2007. The Senate only received that bill on May 8, 2007.
When the member says that all of the bills had gone through the House and were sitting in the Senate, he is being wilfully incompetent or he is being sheerly incompetent by not giving the actual dates. It is the same thing for Bill C-32, Bill C-35, Bill C-10 and C-27.
Tackling Violent Crime Legislation
February 11th, 2008 / 1:20 p.m.
Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB
Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to my hon. colleague's comments. The claim about the eight days that the bill has been in front of the Senate is simply a fallacy.
If we take a look at the precursor bills to Bill C-2 in the previous Parliament, those being: Bill C-10; Bill C-22, age of protection; Bill C-27, dangerous offenders; Bill C-32, impaired driving; and Bill C-35, reverse onus on bail for gun offences; four of those five bills had already passed through the House and had spent a significant amount of time in the Senate. The only one that had not was Bill C-27, which had been to committee and had been amended.
We were a very accommodating government, I thought. We basically bundled all of that legislation as it appeared in the previous session of Parliament, with the amendments, put it back in a bill, put it before the House and now it is sitting in the Senate.
We are not asking for anything that is extremely onerous.
My colleague also brought up the fact that she wanted to get her numbers right on something. Well, it is very clear from the information that I see, whether it is on TV or through various polls, that 70% of Canadians support tougher legislation against crime.
Is it sheer incompetence of her leader and her party, or wilful incompetence of her leader and her party, that they cannot get the Senate to pass the legislation?
Tackling Violent Crime Legislation
February 11th, 2008 / 12:30 p.m.
Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON
Mr. Speaker, let me get to the last part of the member's question first. Let me tell members that there is nothing before the Senate that is more important than the justice related legislation, whether it be the security certificate legislation or the tackling violent crime legislation. These bills are hugely important.
The hon. member said that all the bills were sitting in the Senate and being dealt with expeditiously in the Senate, but they did not get passed, and that is my point. We went home in June. I told people the truth when they asked me about why this legislation did not get passed. I said that 14 year olds and 15 year olds are not as well protected in this country from sexual predators as they should be and the blame goes right across the aisle.
Here is the beautiful thing about that group sitting across from me. I know that many of them actually agree with what we in this government are doing. It was of more than just passing interest in regard to the original Bill C-10, mandatory penalties for people who commit firearms offences, and people can check the record: there were about five members of the Liberal Party who did not even buy into the approach that the Liberal Party was taking. They stood with the government and I do not blame them, because those five members were right. It was the rest of the Liberals who were wrong.
I know the game those members are playing. It is not just me: they can call their friend Dalton McGuinty down at Queen's Park and ask him why he is pushing for this legislation to be passed so quickly. They can tell him it is once again sitting in the Senate being expeditiously dealt with there. They could tell him that is wonderful and ask if that is not good enough for him. I do not always agree with the premier of Ontario, but I know he would agree with me on this one. He would just tell them to get it passed.
Every so often those members throw out the words “fast track”. Great. Fast track it, then, I say, and get it passed by the end of this month. They have seen all these pieces of legislation. We have taken into consideration what opposition members wanted and suggested. We were very reasonable in the package that we put before the House. I am now asking them to do the right thing for this country and get the bill passed.
February 6th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-13, which is fairly technical. It deals with the language of juries, procedures for service of documents and also, the aspect that interests us most, the whole issue of official languages and the provision of trials in the official languages. Consequently, it addresses access to justice by minority groups.
We support this bill and are in favour of the amendment tabled by our Liberal colleagues. If I have understood correctly, this amendment clearly recognizes the responsibility of a judge to inform the people before him in a court of law, the people who will be participating in a trial—whether or not they are the accused—that they have the right to a trial in either official language, naturally in the language of their choice. This ensures that justice will be served.
In general, I would like to remind the House that Bill C-13 initially proposed that an accused who does not speak the same language as the majority of a group of accused should not be penalized. It suggested as well that it would be possible for a judge or the chief court coordinator to ensure that a co-accused who does not speak the same language as the majority appears before a bilingual judge or has a separate trial. That is part of our constitutional guarantees. It is also in the Criminal Code and is one of the factors we should always remember as parliamentarians, that is to say, people must always have access to justice in their mother tongue.
For example, when francophones outside Quebec are put on trial—especially when the trial involves multiple charges or there are several accused at the same time—there is always a danger that they will be assimilated because the majority rules, and obviously that is not what we want. The bar expressed its concerns in committee that justice could be denied to minority groups at various points in our current trial procedures.
In regard to linguistic rights, the current system provides that at the request of the accused, a judge will order a preliminary hearing. We all remember that the preliminary hearing is the stage before the trial itself when a judge assesses the evidence that the Crown has and commits the accused to trial. It is a very important stage. The legislation currently provides that, at the request of the accused, a judge will order a preliminary hearing and trial before a judge alone or a jury that speaks the official language of the accused. There is always a concern, therefore, that no one in a minority language situation should be denied knowledge of the evidence against him and the legal procedure or prevented from interacting with the officers of the court and the judges, so that there is always the possibility of ordering a trial in the language of the accused.
I also want to remind the House of similar concerns surrounding the entire question of legal documents. When an accused asks to have his trial in the official language of his choice, in accordance with section 19 of the bill, the Crown must have the documents containing the charges, the information and the indictment translated into the official language of the accused or the language that he best understands. After everything is translated, if that would help the accused understand it better, it is turned over to him.
Changes have also been made in regard to the examination, cross-examination and preliminary hearing. I mentioned that the preliminary hearing is very important because it is here that the Crown reveals its evidence. This is when it is determined whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
It should be noted that witnesses can use either official language at the preliminary hearing and the trial. Clause 20(2) of the bill enables the prosecutor, if authorized by the judge and if the circumstances warrant, to examine or cross-examine a witness in the witness’s official language.
Let us look at the case of a francophone accused of a crime. For example, suppose the member for Québec, a francophone, were accused—let us imagine the worst—of having killed her husband. She is ordered to trial and there is a person who saw her kill her husband, Mr. Lemieux, a man who gave her more than 20 years of his life, a veritable saint of a man. If the person who saw her kill her husband is an anglophone, he or she will be summoned to testify as a witness. In this case, the crown prosecutor is bilingual. One may ask in what language the prosecutor will ask questions of the witness. Thanks to the amendments to Bill C-13, it will be possible for the person conducting the examination of the witness, even if he or she speaks a different language than that of the accused, to communicate directly with the witness, thereby avoiding the need for interpreters. Thus, the member for Québec, a francophone, kills her husband; an anglophone witness is called to testify and the prosecutor who laid the charge is bilingual. The cross-examination could be conducted in the language of the witness. In my example, I referred to my colleague, the member for Québec, but honourable members will recognize the fictitious nature of my example because the member for Québec is well known as a peacemaker, without excess of any kind, far removed from anger and possessing total self-control.
That said, I want to say a few words about the amendments that the other place, the Senate, has proposed.
In my opinion—it was a recommendation of the Senate and it is a recommendation of the Liberal opposition—it is desirable that the judge should personally ensure that the person who appears before the court, whether at the preliminary inquiry stage or during the trial on the merits of the case, is clearly aware of his or her linguistic rights, including the right to request a trial in either official language. In a case were there are co-accused, one accused person can even ask for a separate trial when necessary.
Obviously, there are many people involved in the trial proceedings who could inform the accused that his or her linguistic rights must be respected. The prosecutor or the accused’s attorney could do so, or others. In my view, it is a wise move to make certain the judge is able to do that.
Our colleagues in the other place, the senators, have also asked that the legislation be reviewed in three years. This kind of review mechanism, I believe, is now quite common in our bills.
Of course, the Bloc Québécois supports this amendment. The Senate has submitted different cross-referencing provisions, particularly with regard to Bill C-2, the omnibus bill tabled by the government. I have been told there was a bit of a delay in the Senate, which provoked some anger from the parliamentary secretary. As I recall, Bill C-2 was a combination of five previous bills, namely, C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentences), C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make consequential amendments to another Act, the bill on dangerous offenders, the bill on reverse onus in bail hearings and a bill dealing with impaired driving and the new charges that could be laid.
Of course, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-13 and the amendments proposed by the Liberal opposition. However, I cannot conclude without talking about the court challenges program.
How sad it must be for all parliamentarians to see how this government has taken an insensitive measure. I thought the Minister of the Environment would join his voice to that of the Bloc Québécois and defend francophone minorities. If I am not mistaken, he was responsible for this issue when he was a member of the Mike Harris cabinet. Mike Harris will not be remembered as one of the most progressive parliamentarian in history, but I thought that the Minister of the Environment wanted to follow the philosophical saying to the effect that taking the middle road is doing the virtuous thing. How can one support abolishing the court challenges program and thus move away from the middle road and virtue?
As members know, the Bloc Québécois is a very responsible opposition party. It is the number one political force in Quebec, and it will continue to be so, if such is the wish of Quebeckers. So, the Bloc Québécois brought forward an amendment at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, and also at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, to resurrect the court challenges program. Unfortunately, we were disappointed by the Conservatives' response. The Conservative Party can no longer be called “progressive”. The fact that they removed the word “progressive” from their name is quite telling.
So, the Bloc Québécois brought forward an amendment in both of these committees. As we know, had it not been for the court challenges program, the French fact outside Quebec—for which our ancestors fought—would not be what it is now. And the Minister of the Environment must raise his voice in cabinet, regarding this French fact.
It is being said that the Minister of the Environment is part of the progressive wing of cabinet. How could he have supported this decision? I will have to tell the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, because I believe he has some influence with this man. I believe that the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will have to make the Minister of the Environment understand that he has failed in his responsibilities by not crossing party lines and by leaving francophones outside Quebec to be denied an extremely important tool in this way.
Why is this important? Take the example of school boards. In Quebec, we call them commissions scolaires, but outside Quebec they are conseils scolaires. Governments have not always spontaneously decided to grant resources and equip francophones in some communities with all institutions, from Prince Edward to Alberta, and including Saskatchewan. By using the court challenges program, with public funds, they were able to bring challenges in the courts. The case went as far as the Supreme Court of Canada and forced the establishment of school boards in francophone communities outside Quebec, which are of course minority communities.
How bizarre, not to say stupid, is the reasoning of this government, which claims that it never enacts or introduces unconstitutional laws? Well, I have been sitting in this House for 14 years and I have seen legislation and regulations repeatedly challenged and held to be invalid. Remember that the tobacco regulations, for example, were declared invalid by the Supreme Court. A number of decisions that have been made have been held to be invalid. It is not simply a matter of laws being ruled invalid, it is a matter of getting new ones recognized.
For example, Michael Hendricks, a resident of Montreal, used the court challenges program to have same-sex spouses recognized.
Today, people whose sexual orientation is homosexual can marry, can have proper weddings and experience the joys of marriage—and of course sometimes also the anguish of divorce. Had it not been for Michael Hendricks and his spouse, René Leboeuf, we would never have moved so speedily toward full recognition of rights for the gay and lesbian community. So you can see that the court challenges program has served both francophone communities outside Quebec and gay men and lesbians well.
When we come to examine the Conservative government’s record, the debit side will include the insensitivity it has demonstrated. I can only mourn the fact that no one in the Quebec caucus of the Conservatives felt the need to stand up for francophones outside Quebec. In fact, I say “francophones outside Quebec”, but there is nothing in the court challenges program that made the anglophone minority automatically ineligible to use it. Of course I will be told that the National Assembly has long made sure to respect the anglophone minority in Quebec. In the plan he put forward before the 1995 referendum, Jacques Parizeau said that it was a founding minority of Quebec.
In Quebec, the constitutional rights of anglophones were recognized, and still are. For instance, anglophones have access to learning institutions from kindergarten to university. Even though Quebec is not officially bilingual, a whole range of programs and measures is available to anglophones outside Quebec.
Valéry, a famous name in history, wrote that one can measure how great a civilization is by how it treats its minorities. Of course, in Quebec, we have every reason to be proud of how we have treated the anglophone community. We are equally proud of how we have treated our aboriginal communities. It is well known that René Lévesque was the one who gave recognition to aboriginal communities. Indigenous languages are still used by aboriginal people, and mechanisms maintained by the state allow them to assert themselves as founding nations of Quebec.
In summary, we support this bill. It deals with a number of technical details, but where language rights are concerned, we feel that it is a good piece of legislation, particularly with respect to the right of the co-accused to be tried in the language of the minority, provided that it is one of the official languages. We also support the Liberal amendment that will see the judge presiding at the preliminary hearing or trial be put in charge of recognizing the rights of those appearing before him or her and having them recognized.
In addition, we condemn the Conservative government's insensitivity to minority communities. Hopefully, by the next election, the government will have had a burst of conscience and lucidity and restored the court challenges program.
Finally, I hope that the Minister of the Environment will rise and put a question to me.
February 6th, 2008 / 4:10 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
I may be a rookie here but I remember Bill C-23 very well. We were in favour of the bill but the government decided to dissolve Parliament. So here we are, debating the same bill all over again, except that the number has changed.
The context is fairly important as we start, Bill C-13 is really Bill C-23. It contains so many important new aspects to make our criminal justice system work more equitably and to modernize it. It is why I was proud as a member of the Liberal justice team and as a member of the Liberal justice committee team to approve it and to send it on for eventual approval and royal assent.
Alas, the Prime Minister and his team decided that they were afraid of the environment. Their new Minister of the Environment had failed so miserably to act on the environment that they had to scuttle the whole Parliament because they were afraid of a couple of bills that might change things. In that mess, in that melee unfortunately, this good justice bill was killed and had to be reintroduced again.
One might ask, what difference does it make? It makes a difference to people who care about the criminal justice system. It may not mean a lot to people, but one of the biggest things we could have done in the last two years that I have been here would have been to modernize and make more effectual our criminal justice system, to move the maximum fine to be imposed for any summary conviction offence from $2,000 to $10,000.
A $2,000 fine is within the means of many people, but a $10,000 fine for a serious summary conviction offence, that does not warrant jail time, is a serious fine and might very well have a deterrent effect on those type of crimes for which a fine is appropriate.
There were many other amendments, which could be in effect and the law in the country now, that were just simply thrown away.
Language rights are very important in my province of New Brunswick which is officially a bilingual province. I represent the city of Moncton, which is an officially bilingual city. This is bread and butter for New Brunswick politicians. It is disturbing to me that the parliamentary secretary, when asked why Bill C-23, which contained many provisions to improve the delivery of justice services in both official languages was not given the priority of other bills, turned his answer to Bill C-2 and the tackling violent crime bill.
This love child of the Conservative justice agenda, why was it killed by the Prime Minister? Was he so afraid of other bills which showed the incompetency of his own ministers?
It seems shocking to me. It included: Bill C-10, involving mandatory minimums which was a bill improved upon at committee and which had passed the House; Bill C-22, which modernized issues surrounding the age of consent and the age of protection, and provided for the first time a close in age exemption which made the bill very palatable in protecting young people; Bill C-32, for which Mothers Against Drunk Driving had been clamouring for some time; and, Bill C-35, a reverse onus on bail provisions which in effect codified the existing treatment of the law by jurists in the country, jurists who are exceptional jurists.
I have said this for two years. It seems like I just got here but I am here again defending judges and saying that they were enacting the provisions of Bill C-35 long before we had to make it law. Finally, there was Bill C-27, with respect to dangerous offenders.
Those were all bills that were moved along and would be law now had the government not pulled the plug on its own agenda. It euthanized its own criminal justice program.
In light of the Conservative vote on the capital punishment issue today, it is not surprising that Conservative members believe in terminating things. They have terminated their own hopes and dreams for criminal justice.
However, as I move to what is probably bread and butter for me as a New Brunswick politician, the language of the accused, I want to highlight what the bill will do and what it has done in the past. It is important to note the existing context.
At the request of the accused, a judge will order that the accused be granted a preliminary inquiry, a pre-trial procedure, and trial before a judge without jury, or judge with jury, who speak the official language, one or the other, which may be the language of the accused.
If the accused speaks neither English nor French, a judge will order that the accused be granted a preliminary inquiry or trial, without a judge and jury, who speak the official language of Canada in which the accused can best give testimony. The court is also required to provide interpretation services. That is the existing set of laws.
What Bill C-13 does to improve upon that, in clause 18 of the original bill, is to suggest that once the accused appears in court, the judge is required to advise him or her of the right to trial in the official language of his or her choice, but this requirement, as it exists now, is only if the accused is not represented by counsel.
What Bill C-13 does, which Bill C-23 did and which we all agree on, is take away the issue of representation and says that the judge must advise the accused, whether represented or not, it was a false barrier, to his or her right to have a trial in the language of his or her own choice. That was a good change and it leads me into some of my further debate points when I say that the judge was required to advise the accused of his or her languages rights.
I know the member for Beauséjour is a member of the bar. He is experienced in certain criminal proceedings and would know, coming from a francophone milieu, that it is critically important that the gatekeeper for language rights in that context, the provincial court judge in most instances, has that positive duty to inform a judge of his or her right to a trial in the language of his or her choice. It is important to know that the judge is already doing that.
With respect to preliminary inquiries and the trial in both official languages, clauses 18 and 21 changed it so that they became more accessible. Trials in the proper language of the accused, either French or English, would be improved by this bill.
I might add, as an aside, that the translation of documents would be ameliorated certainly by these amendments and we are all in favour of that.
I guess where the rubber hits the road is what to do with the amendments presented by the Senate. My friend, the parliamentary secretary, discussed at length some of the amendments, and I want to counter on the two on which we might have a more elaborate discussion.
We know that this bill is aimed at modernizing our criminal justice system and making it more effective. That goes without saying. My party had indicated that it would support the passage of this bill when it was first introduced before prorogation. It was the bill that I mentioned earlier, Bill C-23.
In the context of this modernization, it is important that the rights of all Canadians be respected with regard to the use of official languages in court proceedings.
Canadians, particularly those in minority language situations, know they have certain rights under the Criminal Code, but it is the federal government's responsibility, and I suggest our responsibility as lawmakers, to ensure the application of those rights is clear and that the judicial process is not delayed.
The way the government presented its view of language rights in Bill C-13, a justice of the peace or court judge would only be charged with finding some way to ensure that accused persons are informed of their language rights. That is really not enough.
One of the amendments that we proposed should be supported. We are in argument with the government on this, at least according to the parliamentary secretary's speech. It is important to say from the outset that the judge already has a duty to advise the accused of his or her rights. The language says that the judge must ensure that the accused knows of this option.
I have witnessed many first appearances and I am very confident in the ability of our judges to advise accused persons of their rights. It is commonly done throughout the province of New Brunswick and in any federally appointed court system where official languages are important.
The amendment proposed by the Senate would ensure that the federal government takes on its responsibilities through its agents to inform any accused persons of their right to proceed in the official language they understand. The Senate amendment simply takes out any potential middleman in the administration of justice. The judge would inform the accused of his or her rights.
I do not think that it is an undue burden for a judge. If there is clear communication during court proceedings, we are simply providing for clear access to justice for all those involved. It falls in line with our democratic society's pledge to have an expedient judicial process and it takes out the aspect of appeal.
I think the government wants efficacious legislation but I cannot be sure sometimes because some of the legislation it presents is so poorly written and so hastily delivered, only for the purpose of a television spot on the news, it is not always clear. In this case, however, if the government would only support this Senate amendment, it could have efficacious and fair language policy through the Criminal Code.
Sadly, the other Senate amendment respecting the reporting on official language requests is not one that the opposition can support. We cannot agree with it because it would require the Minister of Justice to report on the language of proceeding or testimony in criminal matters across this country.
There can be no way that all attorneys general in all provinces and in all territories would have the means to uniformly report on this. As the parliamentary secretary rightly commented, it is not the minister's mandate. In saying this, I do not mean that the Minister of Justice is not competent. I mean that he is not competent in the law to do such reporting. For that reason, we support the government in its opposition to that Senate amendment.
I understand the Senate's concern with ensuring that there is accountability in respecting language rights but we can surely do a more effective job in ensuring this by using the other resources that are in the community.
I know well-known jurists and hard-working jurists in my own province.
They are Sacha D. Morisset and Christian Michaud, who are both members of the Association des juristes d'expression française du Nouveau-Brunswick. They often highlight the statistics with regard to French language trials in our province. If it can be done in New Brunswick, I am sure it can be done in Canada.
Again, we do not support that Senate amendment.
In short, we are very happy to get moving with this important legislation. We are happy the Senate took the time to improve the bill by suggesting that judges, who are the gatekeepers in our system, have the duty to inform an accused of his or her rights respecting language in this country.
It is bedrock in this community and this country that we offer services in both languages with respect, at least, to the Criminal Code of Canada and the criminal justice system.
On this one amendment from the Senate, I urge members of the government to agree with the Senate and with the Liberal Party and its justice team that it will make the situation with respect to the delivery of language rights in this instance a much better thing.
I am very proud to suggest that we support the bill and one of the amendments suggested by the Senate, which is one of the two that are excluded from the government's list in the final motion.
I want to move the following amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting the words “agrees with Amendments No. 2, 4, 5 and 6” and substituting therefore the words “agrees with Amendments No. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6” and by deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “disagrees with Amendment No. 1”.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
February 4th, 2008 / 5:50 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about Bill C-26 and on the topic of justice, as this government sees it.
I must say I am very pleased to speak to this bill and this government's justice program, but, frankly, I have several concerns about this. Indeed, this government has introduced and will continue to introduce bills that do not work.
It gives me a great deal of anxiety to look at written laws that do not respond to what they are intended. I have some time to elaborate on that.
I listened to the bright and articulate Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, who shares part of a county with me in terms of representation. Our people are not a world apart. It gives me a great deal of anxiety to hear him suggest, perhaps naively, that the bill would have its intended effect.
The government rolls out bills in front of blue plastic platforms and talks about the new government. Cabinet ministers are paraded around in ridings the Conservatives would like to hold, or hold onto slimly. They roll out justice bills in advance of discussing them with stakeholders, in advance of discussing them as a future agenda at the justice committee and in advance of having any real discussion about law reform with a law reform commission. Canadians would be interested to know that there is no law reform commission. There is no body that can discuss and promulgate laws that affect all of us, and which have the teeth they are intended to have.
The government can try to get a three minute spiel on the evening news, which it uses to tell Canadians that it will stop all drug production and send all producers to jail for longer terms. It feels this will end the problem. That is naive, which is better than saying it is devious. The Conservative government put bills before Parliament then prorogued Parliament so those bills never saw the light of day. It then reintroduces the same bills and new bills knowing they too will likely never see the light of day. It is almost devious. If I sat on the other side, I would probably know the big game plan, but to most reasonable people involved in criminal justice issues, including police forces, prosecutors, social workers, the Conservative justice program is intended to fail.
The Conservatives have been in office for two years now so they cannot claim to be the new government. If we had socks that old, we would not call them new socks. That is an old sock over there. The odour is pronounced. This says to me that the Conservatives have not really come to terms with how to make society safe.
There is one non-partisan point that binds all parliamentarians here. We all want safe communities. Try as it might, the Conservative government, the old sock government, wants to paint those of us in the opposition ranks as people who do not care about safety and society. Perhaps those things first motivated some of us to get into Parliament. I see mayors on this side of the House. I see people who have experience in emergency measures organizations, who have been involved on police commissions and who have headed police commissions. To suggest parliamentarians do not want to save society stinks like the old sock justice program that the Conservative government has introduced.
Those members do not mean what they say. A long time ago they had another one of those blue plastic background announcements with law enforcement officials at bay. They announced that they would create 2,500 new positions for police officers across Canada. They have not done that.
Most of the laws the Conservatives roll out require a certain amount of police presence, and that is an understatement. I can suggest that most of it, when it comes to the detection of drug manufacturing facilities, will require a significant outlay of police resources.
The hon. parliamentary secretary will know that in the Dieppe-Moncton-Riverview area, even before the RCMP took over the municipal force there, the joint forces operation for drug detection was up and running. It continues to run very well. It is like anything else and will be saddled with more duties under a law such as this, which will have well trained police officers wondering if the shoot of a marijuana plant in two places is two plants to get it over the 500 mark, or if it is one to get it under the 500 mark. These are problems of detection which have not been resourced. The government is not serious about its criminal justice agenda.
The other thing Canadians must know is what this law has in one part of it, and it might seem to be well-meaning. Again, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the parliamentary secretary over there. He probably thought, when he parsed the legislation on this law, he was protecting school areas and people who frequent public areas when he agreed to put his minister's pen to subclause (ii) of clause 1, which says that the mandatory minimum punishment of two years will apply if:
(A) the person committed the offence in or near a school, on or near school grounds or in or near any other public place usually frequented by persons under the age of 18 years,
If we all knew where everybody under the age of 18 years was at all times, there would be many happy parents, school superintendents and police forces. This is so vague as to fall on its face. I pray the able committee members at the justice committee, if and when the bill should be referred to the justice committee, can fix this. This goes to the point that in their rush to get in front of that blue plastic sign and give a moment of news release, the Conservatives did not yet again produce a proper law that we could look at and say with some satisfaction that the bill would change our society.
I have been a lawyer for some 20 years. I have been the mayor of a municipality. I know, as all members of the House do, that drug abuse is a problem in any western society. It is a problem in any world society. It is a problem with which many people are grappling. Parents are involved in grappling with these issues. Teachers, doctors, nurses and people from all walks of society, not only members of the justice committee who belong to the Conservative Party of Canada, are all involved in this. Why is there not more attention paid to consulting the stakeholders and coming up with bills that will work when it comes to drug abuse?
The whole other problem of treating the addict as a criminal has to be addressed. Unfortunately, because of the time involved, it cannot be done tonight.
Bill C-26 against controlled substances does not provide the balance needed to reduce crime, substance abuse and drug use, nor does it protect public health. The public health aspect is very important in this debate.
Instead of these commitments, and with no real bills, we are left with a strategy that comes from south of the border, the United States, one that mirrors the Bush administration's policies. Yet these same American policies are doing nothing but overcrowding American prisons.
This bill will lead us down the same path as the one chosen by the United States. There will be many more people in Canadian prisons, if this bill and other Conservative bills are passed and enacted in this country. However, this does nothing to resolve our country's drug problems.
There is no question that sentences are very important and they are an important part of the solution. I look forward at justice committee to hearing this evidence that serious sentences, mandatory minimums for drug use in particular, would have the effect of decreasing drug use and drug abuse, and decreasing crime as a concomitant of that. I am looking forward to those studies because I am afraid they do not exist.
Fighting crime with longer sentences does not work. If it did and there was insurmountable evidence of that, I get back to my premise that we are all interested in a safer community, a safer Canada. So if the evidence were overwhelming that mandatory minimums, longer sentences, longer prison time served actually would keep society safer, why would we not be for it?
In order to bring up good legislation through the process here in Parliament, we have to have evidence-based legislation. We have to show that if we pass this law, this will be the effect. We cannot just say it in front of the blue plastic sign in front of the TV cameras. Tougher penalties for people who produce and are trafficking in drugs will only scare the small time producers and organized crime will fill the gap.
The aspect of gangs and organized crime is something that every community in Canada has to grapple with again. There is no one piece solution to this, but this certainly is not it. As written, it would seem, and we will hear the evidence at committee, that there is a crackdown intended on many small-time, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, on many small operations that can be put together with household materials and with common accessories for heating and containing liquids and powders.
However, no one is condoning small-time operations, but to crack down solely or to target mostly small-time producers, there is just going to be inevitably a gap. Unless we get to the issue of addictions and what we are going to do to deal with societal issues regarding addictions, the demand side of this equation is not going to be effective.
It seems that all republican, read this now as Conservative in this country, all republican dogma on the war on drugs is supply-based. Take out the supply and the problem is gone. Well, it did not work during prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. If we take out the supply, that is just a layer of the supply. There will always be a supply if there is a demand.
I am sounding like a raving capitalist and I apologize to my Conservative friends for that, but supply and demand is very much at issue here. What should be tackled is the demand side. How do we make it so that there would be no more demand for crystal meth? How do we make it so that a teenager at a party is not given a date rape drug? Because we do not want anyone to use it, we have to attack the demand for the drugs. There is nothing in the bill that talks about that whatsoever.
Eugene Oscapella, a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy, would be one of the experts who would come to a committee and give evidence. When we ask the minister questions on the first day of the committee hearings, we will be assured that he is contacted and spoken to because a recognized expert in drug policy living right here in Ottawa would certainly be someone that the minister or the parliamentary secretary or someone from the blue plastic old sock gang should probably get to see. He would say organized crime does not care about the law. With the changes to the law as proposed, the government is doing a service for organized crime.
Would that not be awful, that a government in Canada would actually benefit organized crime? It is certainly not what is intended. I will give my colleagues on the other side the benefit of the doubt. They cannot intend this, but by bringing forth such poor legislation it may very well be the effect of this.
The bill needs to reflect a balanced response to substance abuse and drug addiction which includes of course prevention treatment, enforcement and harm reduction measures.
Did I mention that 2,500 police officers and 1,000 RCMP officers in total were promised by the government and not delivered upon? When one makes a promise to fund something, all one has to do is pass a budget. I believe the government has passed two and things called mini-budgets. So, it has had the opportunity.
Prorogation and blue plastic background in announcements could not have interfered with the ability of the finance minister, if the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice really wanted, to put the money behind where the talk was to make sure that there would be 3,500 more police officers on the streets now or in this case, in the bushes of parts of this country where grow-ops are taking place.
Now, there is no one in the bushes of the places where these grow operations are taking place. Has the government walked the walk? No. It just talks the talk.
On mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, we have had a lot of evidence during the hearings on billsC-9 and C-10 but Bill C-10 in particular with respect to mandatory minimums. Again, if they worked, we would be all for them.
There have been mandatory minimums in certain situations where it has proven that they acted as a deterrent for the institution of criminal acts. However, do we really think that by taking people, for instance at the lower end of the chain, who are making drugs in their kitchen and are using drugs in their home, and that by going to prison alone is going to stop the production of that drug in total or help those people to become meaningful members of society?
What does it do for the addiction issue? Where is the extra funding which would have to come to Correctional Service Canada, to the parole officers across the country, to the correctional services officers across the country, and to the various attorneys general in the provinces across the country who will need funding for all of their officers who supervise probation orders and conditional sentences? Where is all of the money to back up these laws?
Instead, we have a stack of laws, many of which were not intended to pass, many of which were killed by prorogation, and many of which show that the government is not interested in getting tough on crime or tackling crime. It is interested in tackling the airwaves.
What can we do to get us out of this mess? We can actually put politics aside, talk about a safe society, put our money where our mouth is, and send the bill to committee to see what can be done about reducing the number of harmful grow operations, which if not detected would destroy our society.
What about discussing how much resourcing this bill will need? What about getting rid of silly definitions that parse between 500 and 501 plants and at or near a public place where young people are headed? What about working on the bill together and what about actually having an act which will do what it says, which is to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and make consequential amendments which will make our society safer? We are all for a safer community. Let us work toward getting there.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 28th, 2007 / 3:25 p.m.
Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this House on a subject to which I have devoted most of my professional career. When I left university, I became a crown attorney, first at the provincial level, then at the federal level. Then I became a defence attorney. I was even the president of the Association des avocats de la défense. I was the Bâtonnier of the province of Quebec, and then minister of justice and minister of public safety. As you can see, I have long thought about crime in general and effective ways to fight it. I have also thought about the bogus solutions that are sometimes proposed and that have produced disastrous results in neighbouring countries. I would not want this country to follow in its neighbour's footsteps only to end up with the same results.
From the outset, I would say that I think we all share the same goal, and that is to fight crime. Where we differ is in how to go about it. I give my opponents credit and they should give me credit as well, especially since my past has shown that, in situations where I really had power, I could fight crime effectively. Our major victory over the Hells Angels in Quebec is a very clear example of that.
Nevertheless, I often heard from the other side that we were filibustering on Bill C-2. I do not know whether the people who said that know what a filibuster is. In French, the word is “filibusterie”. The word “filibuster” comes from the French word “filibustier”. This tactic was first used in the U.S. senate by an elderly senator who had serious objections to a bill. At the time, there was no limit on speaking time, as there is now in all legislatures, thanks in part to him. To express his disagreement with the bill, he decided to speak without stopping. He even took the Bible and read long excerpts from it, and he kept on speaking.
Today, we have measures to prevent filibusters and systematic obstruction. We have a set amount of time to present our arguments. Filibustering means using every possible procedural means to prolong a debate.
Bill C-2 groups together five bills that were introduced during the previous session, including the bill on bail. The motion at third reading was adopted unanimously, without a vote, on June 5, 2007. I therefore do not see how we could have delayed that part of Bill C-2.
Bill C-32 on impaired driving died on the order paper, even before the report stage. Once again, I do not see how anyone could accuse us of filibustering.
Bill C-27 on dangerous offenders also died on the order paper, in committee. What does it mean when a bill dies on the order paper? It means that ordinarily we should have resumed the deliberations that were interrupted in late spring, but the session was prorogued. The government prorogued it. It was the government that aborted the process these bills had to go through before becoming law. As a result, these bills could not be discussed any further.
The same is true of Bill C-22. Even worse, this bill had been adopted at third reading. Once again, it had received unanimous approval.
We voted in favour of these four bills. Where, then, is the filibustering, this tactic where members try to prolong the debate so that a bill they disagree with goes nowhere?
One major bill remains, Bill C-10, which provides for minimum sentences for offences involving firearms.
We were against it for a number of reasons, but the bill was passed at third reading on May 29, 2007.
The government decided to group these five bills together for one reason: none of the bills elicited systematic opposition. Knowing that we have some objections to Bill C-10, which I will discuss shortly, the government is trying to say that if we vote against Bill C-2 because we are against this part, we are also against all of the other parts.
This argument keeps coming up in this House, and I do not think it is well founded. I cannot understand why all of the parties keep using this argument. I myself have never used it and probably never will. However, when we vote in favour of blocks of legislation—such as the throne speech, which contains numerous measures—that means we support some measures, but are against others.
We weigh the measures we support against those we oppose. We explain why we vote as we do. For a throne speech, when the negatives outweigh the positives, we vote against it even though we support some of the measures it contains. It is utterly unfair to say that since we voted against a group of measures, we must oppose all of the measures in that group.
The same goes for the budget when they criticize us for voting against measures that we actually want to see in place. We voted against the budget because the cons, the measures we did not support, outweighed the pros. The same applies when we vote for a budget, which does not necessarily mean that we support every single measure in it.
The argument is a faulty one, but the government has come to rely on this tactic to influence public opinion during the coming election, an election that the government seems to want as soon as possible. For example, they will say that we are against changing the age of consent, even though the bill passed unanimously, and so on.
Let us get to the heart of the matter: minimum penalties. We have some objections in principle to minimum penalties. Based on my personal experience, I believe that minimum penalties do not influence crime rates. I think many people who have long been studying crime would agree with me.
First, I think that no member in this House would be able to tell me how many minimum penalties there are in the Criminal Code. People do not know the minimum penalties. In Canada, the most glaring example is marijuana. I passed the Bar exam in 1966. I started working as a crown attorney at the provincial level, and that was the first time I heard talk of marijuana. There was not much at the time. Throughout university, I do not remember hearing about anyone smoking pot. I did not even know that expression, and I was obviously not the only one.
I then became a crown attorney at the federal level and I started to work on cases related to these issues. Let us talk about marijuana and hashish from Indian hemp. The Indian hemp growing here had no hallucinogenic properties. So at the time, all marijuana, hashish and Indian hemp that people have been smoking since the late 1960s to the present day came from somewhere else.
Does anyone know what the minimum penalty was for importing marijuana into Canada? I am sure that people do not know, just like people at the time did not. The minimum penalty was seven years in prison for importing marijuana. It is one of the harshest sentences in the Criminal Code. But it was while we had that minimum penalty that marijuana use started growing, reaching peaks in the 1980s.
Since that time, levels of marijuana use have remained very high. We can clearly see that minimum sentences had little effect. The problem is that people do not know what the minimum sentences are.
On the other hand, we have an example of success, but it still needs to be taken a little further. I am referring to impaired driving. The minimum sentences have not been increased, but we have seen awareness campaigns and increased education. People know that it is a crime to drive while impaired. I remember when I finished my studies and I was buying my first car, no one talked about it. Our attitude was to consider if the person was capable of driving and we did not really see it as a criminal act. This is no longer the case.
The public has become much more aware and we have seen a decrease in impaired driving charges. In fact, they have decreased significantly. When authorities began conducting the first tests on our roads to see if people were driving while impaired, it was not uncommon to stop about 10% of drivers. When road tests are done today, with the same sample chosen in the same manner, less than 1% of drivers are found to be impaired. People have become more aware. I think of my children who drive and who, when they go to parties, have a designated driver, everyone taking their turn. These are habits they have learned without the fear of prison.
Thus, as we can see, the simple fear of a sentence does not have an impact. Plus, people do not know what the minimum sentences are. We must know a little about how the criminal mind works. I practised criminal law long enough to know a little about the subject. Does anyone really believe that criminals think seriously about the sentence they might have to serve if they are caught? First of all, most crimes are committed on impulse. What people want to avoid and what prevents them from committing crime is not the penalty, but rather the fear of getting caught. If there is a good chance they will be caught, people change their behaviour.
I also had another experience in my personal and professional life. When I began practising law in Montreal, it seemed to be the capital of armed robbery. Some of those listening may remember the famous movie called Monica la mitraille. It was a very good movie. I do not remember her real name, but I did see her in court. She was the leader of one of the groups who committed armed robberies in Montreal. There was about one a day at the time.
Does anyone remember the last armed bank robbery committed last year? I am convinced that almost no one does. Is it because thieves are now more afraid of the sentence than back when it was harsher? Why did they do it? Why has the number of these robberies decreased considerably? It is because of intelligent preventive measures. Banks are built differently and there is no longer access to large amounts of money. The risk of being caught in relation to the anticipated profits is not worth it. Furthermore, all kinds of measures have been put in place in banks and the efforts of bankers has also decreased the menace of armed bank robberies.
Putting in place a series of measures resulted in a true decrease in crime. Fear does not stop people from committing crimes.
The third example I can give is the death penalty. We abolished the death penalty in Canada 25 years ago. Since then the number of homicides has declined steadily rather than increasing.
I am not saying that we should not have sentences. We must have sentences and for certain crimes in certain circumstances they must be severe. However, the use of minimum sentences does not work.
I have another philosophical problem with minimum sentences and it is worth talking about. A judge hears a case and arguments, then weighs all the factors that need to be taken into consideration when handing down a sentence, such as individual and general deterrents, the seriousness of the charge, the seriousness of the crime, the circumstances under which the accused committed the crime, his involvement in the crime, recidivism if any, his home life, his responsibility or the influence others may have had, and so forth.
Implementing minimum sentences forces a judge, who went over all these circumstances in his heart and soul, to conclude that, even though that person should get 18 months in jail, the minimum sentence is 3 years. He is required by law, in that case, to commit an injustice. I have heard judges say that when they hand down minimum sentences.
We often forget that when we want to impose minimum sentences we are thinking about the worst offenders. When I listen to the examples given by the members opposite who defend this bill, I know full well they are thinking about the worst cases. We have to realize that minimum sentences do not apply just to the worst cases, but also to less serious cases.
I will give an example that I witnessed in my career. This will show that, although the members opposite claim that seven-year minimum sentences are not being handed out, a number of people have, at one point, served seven years in prison for importing marijuana.
I remember a young woman whose capacities were diminished after an accident. She had a daughter and her husband had left her. She met a charming, smooth talking American fellow with an education, like her, and she fell for him. He was willing to live with her handicap. He was very attentive towards her. They were in love. He seemed to have a income, without being very wealthy. One day, he left, saying that he would be sending her parcels. It was not immediately clear to her what he was talking about. Parcels did start arriving. Based on telephone conversations between them, it is obvious that she suspected that the parcels contained something illegal, because he asked that she not open them. She did not import anything. She simply stored parcels in her home. But because she suspected that there was something illegal going on, under the doctrine of wilful blindness, she was undoubtedly guilty, like him, of importing narcotics.
I wonder what sentences my colleagues in the House would hand down to that man and that woman respectively. Does it not seem profoundly unfair that the same sentence be imposed on both of them just because the minimum sentence prescribed is seven years? Since the offence involved relatively small amounts of hashish, the least dangerous drug, he may not have deserved a seven year sentence and she certainly did not. This goes to show how minimum sentences result in unfair situations. Different situations have to be considered.
In addition, the examples of cases raised in the House often appeared very serious, based on the two or three reasons for which the judge imposed such sentences. I doubt, however, that this was the case. The judge probably cited 10 reasons or so, which are not listed, for coming to the decision which is described to us as unacceptable. It is entirely possible that a few of the thousands of sentences rendered every day in Canada seem too heavy handed. In the case of a truly unacceptable sentence, the potential remedy would not come from Parliament, as is suggested by our discussions, but from the appeal courts.
In none of the arguments put forward in support of increasing sentences was an unreasonable decision by an appeal court ever mentioned.
Finally, the most important thing to know concerning firearms: in the United States, they incarcerate seven times as many people as we do, and guns roam freely, so to speak. As a result, three times—
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 27th, 2007 / 4:45 p.m.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this bill. It is a bill that has a number of problems as well as a number of positive elements. I want to take us through this kind of bizarre situation where we are being forced to accept the bad in order to get the good. That is the problem with an omnibus bill. If a whole bunch of things are put into legislation, we have to take the bad with the good.
It is even more bizarre in this particular situation when the government has threatened that it is a confidence motion. Canadians being told that they have to accept this bill with all the bad in it or there will be an election even if they do not want one.
I am going to go through the problematic parts of the bill as well as the good parts and explain how, in spite of our efforts to get a number of provisions through that could have been law by now, they have been held up a number of times by the Conservatives.
This bill is a compilation of five old bills. I will go through each of the particular clauses of the bill and mention some of the good and bad parts.
I will start with Bill C-27, which is really the only part of the bill that had not been through the House before. The rest could have been law now had the Conservatives not used the mechanisms they did in proroguing the House and in not bringing back the rest of the bills at the stages they were in Parliament.
The minister suggested today in committee that he was concerned or upset about the problems I had with this part of the bill. Of course, the problems came from concerns that experts had with Bill C-27. The minister should be concerned. When he brings forward a bill that many experts say has a very high probability of being unconstitutional, he should be concerned.
Let us look at the parts of the bill the experts were talking about. First, they suggested it could possibly be unconstitutional as related to section 7 of the charter. Under the old system, there were four reasons, I think, which my colleague brought up today, whereby a person could be declared a dangerous offender. Under the old system, the Crown or the prosecutor would say for which of the four reasons one would be a dangerous offender.
Now, under the reverse onus, they say people are guilty until they prove why they should not be categorized as dangerous offenders, but they do not specify which of the four items they mean. In spite of my colleague's efforts to get this into the bill, there is no explanation as to which of the four items the prosecutor or the Crown thinks makes a person a dangerous offender. It is like putting the onus on people to defend themselves when they do not know what the charge is or what the reason is or what they have to defend themselves against.
The other item in this particular part of the bill that the expert said contradicted a number of points government members were making is that the government says this is only for the most vicious of vicious criminals, only for the most dangerous offenders, but the expert legal witnesses once again outlined how the offences in the bill could easily lead to people who are not the most dangerous of dangerous offenders being caught in this particular mechanism inappropriately.
The third problem, which was not brought up specifically that I can remember, although I am not sure if it was brought up by the experts, is the whole philosophy of proportionality in the justice system. According to the theory or principle of proportionality, the penalty should match the crime in severity. It should be a reasonable match. If, under the mechanisms I just mentioned, people are given a life sentence for what are not the most serious offences, there would certainly be a good chance of going against that principle.
When we talk about taking away people's liberty for the rest of their lives, it is a very serious matter. If Parliament has erred in that area, I recommend that the courts look at that aspect of cases. Indeed, many of the legal expert witnesses said that would actually be the case.
I also said I would talk about some of the good elements in this section. There is a clause whereby the Crown has to say in court whether it will proceed with a dangerous offender hearing. There actually was an amendment from the NDP. I did not quite understand why that would be taken out, because I thought it was a good element in this part of the law. It would stop someone from falling through the cracks. It stops a procedural missing of that opportunity. The prosecutors have to say whether or not under the evidence they are going to proceed. Certainly when there is a potentially dangerous offender we would not want the opportunity to fall between the cracks.
Let us go on to the second element that is pushed into this huge omnibus bill: mandatory minimums. Of course we have supported some mandatory minimums, but certainly not to the degree that is in the bill. Once again, expert after expert came to the committee and showed how mandatory minimums, under certain extreme circumstances, indeed could easily make Canada a more dangerous place, not a safer place. We would have criminals who are learning from other criminals. They are less adjusted. Of course people always forget that virtually all of them come back to society so in essence we would be making Canada a more dangerous place.
That was not just evidence during committee. Let me repeat what was in the Ottawa Citizen today to corroborate that. The article states:
Most legal experts agree with retired judge John Gomery's criticism of new mandatory minimum sentences being proposed by the...government, calling them simplistic and likely to produce unjust outcomes.
Also, in the same article, Ed Ratushny, law professor at the University of Ottawa, called the growing reliance on mandatory minimums to fight crime “simplistic and naive”.
In the same article, William Trudell, head of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, said, “What it says is, 'we don't trust you, judge'.”
In the same article, David Paciocco, a former crown prosecutor, said that apart from the human misery they impose, mandatory minimum sentences generate huge costs for taxpayers.
Once again the government seems to be ignoring any sense of respect for the committee process. I have never seen such a barrage of complaints against bills as there was against Bill C-10 and Bill C-9 , yet where were the amendments from the government? They were non-existent in terms of trying to bring in a just law based on the knowledge that we received at the committee stage.
Once again I will talk about the good parts in that old Bill C-10. There were new offences. One was an indictable offence for breaking and entering to steal firearms. There was an indictable offence for robbery to steal a firearm. We certainly agree with those two, but the mandatory minimums were pushed through in the last Parliament by the Conservatives with the help of the New Democratic Party and were certainly in excess of what we believed was appropriate.
Going to the third of the five bills included in this new version, it was Bill C-22, which would increase the age of consent from 14 to 16. It is another example of a bill that had passed the House already. The delay was incomprehensible to us. Parliamentarians wanted to get it through. Why did the Conservatives, either the justice minister and/or the House leader, delay the bill on three different occasions? On October 26, we offered to fast track seven different bills, I think, including this bill. Yet the bill was debated at second reading on October 30 of that year and did not go to committee until March 11, which was 11 weeks later. The government totally ignored our offer of fast tracking.
The second time, the government delayed the age of consent bill by proroguing Parliament. I do not know if there has been a time in history when justice was set back so far by a prorogation of Parliament. Which department had more bills stopped when Parliament was prorogued, more than any other department? It was the justice department. What a way for the government to slow down its own agenda needlessly.
Some of these bills are those that the minister kept saying today in committee he so wanted to get through quickly. Then he prorogued Parliament. Once again, a number of those bills easily could have been through by this time.
The third time the Conservatives delayed the age of consent bill by not reinstating it. It had already been through the House. It could have been reinstated to where it was instead of going back to square one and being thrown into an omnibus bill with problems from other bills that had not yet been debated, particularly Bill C-27. That component of it could actually have slowed down and sabotaged something that people wanted to get through Parliament.
Finally, in what seemed to be even a fourth method of trying to stall the age of consent bill, the Conservatives started suggesting that a lot of bills would be confidence motions. Fortunately they have withdrawn this, I think. So they were trying to find some way of getting an election, when once again all the bills on the order paper would die and we would lose the age of consent bill.
I want to go now to the fourth part of this bill. It is related to impaired driving. This is another bill that has already gone through committee. Again, it could have been reinstated. After a prorogation of Parliament, bills can be brought back with the consent of Parliament to the stages where they were, so four of these bills could have been brought back in far more advanced forms. Some of them could have been through now.
Of course they would have been through if we had not prorogued Parliament and if the Conservatives had not slowed down the process, but the Conservatives could have brought these bills along faster and put them through instead of putting them into a huge bill where any one of a number of things could slow them down.
It was the committee's duty to spend time in committee and call witnesses to go over the items that they had not yet dealt with in those parts of the bills, particularly Bill C-27, which had not been through committee yet, and of course it was good to do that because of the very serious reservations that were raised in committee during those hearings.
Once again, I would highlight some of the good parts of the old bills. In this one, the impaired driving bill, one of the good parts is that it will make it easier to catch people who are impaired not only by alcohol but by drugs. We are making advances in making the streets safer by being able to have a mechanism for detecting and keeping off the roads people who impair themselves by the use of drugs. As members know, we already do that in relation to alcohol.
However, once again there is a questionable part in that section. In trying to close a loophole, the government added a section which suggests that only scientifically valid defences can be used as evidence. At what other time would a person go to court and only be allowed to use scientifically valid defences? When people go to court, they hear all sorts of witnesses on various things, and now the government is limiting their defences in this particular bill to only scientifically valid defences.
We also heard some disturbing testimony about the occasional lack of rigorous maintenance of machines used to determine abuse and about there being no regular schedules and no independent evaluation, all of which brought up concerns that should be dealt with by committee.
Members can see, with the number of concerns that I have talked about so far, and I have only done four of the five sections, that there are a number of major concerns. People's rights could be taken away. Constitutional rights could be abrogated. People could not bring evidence forward because it would be prohibited by a section of this bill.
This is a major undertaking so it is very important that the committee does its work and is not rushed, yet when I asked the justice minister this morning whether he believed in the committee process where we bring forward witnesses and then make some changes, he assented and said that he did believe in the committee process.
However, last week when the youth justice bill was in committee for one day the House leader complained that opposition parties were stonewalling. There was only one day for the committee to hear from all the witnesses, the minister, and departmental officials.
This particular bill is going to affect youth and the public in very serious ways. The Nunn commission did a comprehensive review of the bill and made a number of recommendations. The government took only one and then added something that did not come from that report at all and will totally change the way youth are sentenced.
Did the House leader expect one day of committee debate to be sufficient? When he was asked about this, he said it may not have been sufficient, but he would know on the quality of the debate. That is pretty weak.
The government House leader did not put in the bill the recommendation of the Nunn commission regarding the protection of the public to sentencing. One would think that victims in Canada would want to be protected. The public wants to be protected. A major recommendation was left out of the youth justice act, and yet the government House leader thought it was so simple that it only required one day of committee debate.
All parties in the House have to deal with the serious situation of the serious omissions and the things that have been put into this legislation without any rationale. We will find out from the witnesses their concerns about that.
Old Bill C-35, which dealt with reverse onus for bail and firearms, has been incorporated into this omnibus bill. Liberal members agree with this. We have been trying to rush it through. It could have been through a lot faster. Problems were raised in committee. There is the potential charter issue again about reverse onus.
In Canada, the general philosophy is that one is innocent until proven guilty. There are an uneasy number of provisions, as Bloc Québécois members mentioned this afternoon, where the onus is being reversed. The Conservatives are saying to Canadians that one is guilty unless proven innocent.
What do the experts have to say about reverse onus? What do the experts have to say about making this serious abrogation of a fundamental principle of Canadian law?
The experts have said that this reverse onus is not needed because it is going to make very little difference. This section has serious consequences. For the serious offences listed, where individuals would be denied bail, they are already being denied bail in the court system. This part of the bill would have little effect.
Liberal members have a number of problems with Bill C-2, but we do support its good elements. We certainly have problems with the way the Conservatives have forced bad things on Canadians by putting all the old bills into one omnibus bill.
We have problems with the Conservatives saying that we have to accept this bill, including the bad parts, or there will be an election. That is not a good way to develop policy. That is not a good way to get the trust of Canadians. Not allowing any amendments and not allowing any changes after having heard from knowledgeable experts is not a good way to develop legislation.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 27th, 2007 / 4:20 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-2 which we are examining today.
It is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to help those listening to us by casting some light on what an omnibus bill is. An omnibus bill is a bill which combines several bills that could not be enacted in the previous session because the government decided to prorogue the House and terminate them at whatever stage they had reached. That was the choice of the Conservative Party and the reason behind Bill C-2, the bill before us now. If the government had not decided to prorogue the House, a goodly number of those bills would have already been passed.
Before getting into the heart of Bill C-2, I would offer a reminder to those listening. When a bill amending the Criminal Code is being passed, we need to keep the crime situation in mind. That is something easily done by people who follow the television news. We all know how the print and electronic media try to attract readers and viewers by focusing on certain situations, trying to sell papers or attract viewers by interviewing victims or their relatives.
Ours is, of course, a media-driven society. The media make the situation more difficult when they neglect to show the other side of the coin. It is all very well to focus on crimes, to opine that certain sentences are too soft, and so on, and to try to find evidence that the justice system is not working, but when it comes to the other side of the coin, discussing the crime situation in general, the media is not pulling its weight there.
This is what I wish to draw to your attention, as well as to the attention of those listening. Things must be balanced. That is our objective as legislators, to begin with. And it is my colleagues here in this House, such as the hon. members for Trois-Rivières, Shefford and Manicouagan, and all the members of the Bloc Québécois, who have the onerous task of balancing things out.
The Conservatives have but one thing in mind: to do everything they can to hold on to power. I often say jokingly—though I sometimes believe it seriously—that power drives one mad. One only needs to look at how the Prime Minister and some of his ministers are behaving to see what it is like to be in power after having been in opposition. A person might well say that power does have that effect on certain people and their sanity.
I am providing this background because crime has been declining steadily in Quebec as well as in Canada over the past 15 years or so. That is not an invention of the Bloc Québécois or the sovereignists that we are. Statistics Canada recently confirmed that the national crime rate reached its lowest point in over 25 years in 2006. Moreover, the homicide rate in Quebec was the lowest in that province since 1962.
So, we are doing fine. I am bringing this up, because the hon. members may have heard of people being surveyed. The Conservative Party, through the government, conducted a large survey of more than 2,000 people across Canada to determine how it might win its election by listening to what the people had to say about crimes and punishments. Interestingly enough, however, there was no mention of the current state of crime in any of the questions; I know this because, by chance, one of my assistants was among those surveyed. The press and electronic media give the impression that crime is rampant, but when we check the statistics and see that crime is down, with a crime rate at its lowest level in 25 years, we put things in perspective.
That is, of course, what the Bloc Québécois is trying to do. We have always been very aware and have always endeavoured to find a balance.
It is not easy to find a balance between the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP. I can say candidly that they are pretty much all the same. In light of all the surveys published all over the place, it is clearly important to have a party representing a majority of Quebeckers and trying to bring some balance to this House.
The Bloc Québécois has tried to bring such balance throughout the debate on Bill C-2 while at the same time bearing in mind the statistics. As I indicated, the national crime rate reached its lowest point in over 25 years in 2006. In Quebec, the homicide rate was the lowest since 1962.
Does this means that all is well? No, all is not well. We know that crime has not been eradicated. It is sad to say, but in our industrialized countries where the rich and the poor coexist alongside one another, there will always be crime. Our objective is to try to lower the crime rate as much as possible, and that is something the members of the Bloc Québécois work on every day.
However, we must also put all this crime into perspective. I will provide another statistic. In terms of violent crime, Quebec has the second lowest rate and is just behind Prince Edward Island. Quebec even recorded a 4% decrease in youth crime in 2006, surpassing all the other provinces.
It is important for members from other provinces to understand that it was quite some time ago that Quebec opted for social reintegration rather than repression and increased sentences, the establishment of minimum sentences or other measures. That is a choice made by Quebec.
I do not wish to repeat the statistics mentioned by other colleagues in this House, but when we look at U.S. states that also opted for reintegration rather than repression—the state of New York among others—we see that crime rates in those states, compared to others, are decreasing. That is the kind of statistic that is of interest to us.
As parliamentarians, we must mitigate the very harmful influence of media sensationalism. It is understandable because they have to sell newspapers or the best television news reports. They will try to capture the sensational aspect of an incident rather than portraying the balance that can be inherent in a society.
It is important to us that the rest of Canada understand that Quebec has done things differently. In addition, the effects on crime rates are very important and hence the position of the Bloc Québécois in the committee that discussed Bill C-2. Our position was different than that of the other parties in this House. We do not hold that against them. It is just that Quebec and the rest of Canada are very different. We do not think in the same way.
One day, Quebeckers will make the rest of Canada understand. We will decide to have our own country with our own laws and so forth. In the meantime, we participate and try to bring Canadian society up to speed with Quebec society. And that is not easy. It is not easy.
I will give some examples of the Bloc Québécois proposals made in committee that were rejected.
We proposed amendments to Bill C-2, to eliminate the practice of granting parole almost automatically after one-sixth of a sentence has been served. Since in Quebec we have reintegration, this causes a problem. Automatic parole after one-sixth of a sentence has been served means that when we want to create programs and force criminals to attend therapy, we find that they participate less when they know that they are automatically eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence.
Again, everyone will say that it does not make sense that criminals are eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence. This has been going on across Quebec. We wanted to change this in a House committee, but our proposal was rejected by the Conservative Party and the other parties.
Once again, Quebec society is much more advanced than Canadian society.
We also suggested putting an end to statutory release once two-thirds of a sentence has been served, by having a professional formally assess inmates regarding the overall risk of reoffending that they represent to the community.
As for social reintegration, we believe that statutory release once two-thirds of a sentence has been served is no longer acceptable in Quebec society. Before criminals are almost automatically released, we want them to be assessed by professionals. We made that suggestion in committee, but, once again, the other parties did not agree.
We suggested that the onus of proof should be reversed in the case of criminals found guilty of the offences of loan-sharking, procuring, robbery, fraud over $5,000 and counterfeiting in order to facilitate the seizure of assets that are the product of crime.
It was the Bloc Québécois that proposed reversing the burden of proof with respect to the proceeds of crime in cases involving organized groups. As some may remember, the Bloc Québécois led that crusade against organized crime by proposing that the burden of proof be reversed so that it would no longer be up to the Crown to prove where the money came from to acquire the goods. The opposite is now true. The burden of proof automatically falls on members of criminal organizations, who must prove that they paid for their goods with legitimate earnings. Since that is difficult to do, goods can be seized automatically.
That bill concerning criminal organizations was supported by the other parties in this House. We proposed to do the same for the issue under consideration today. Why not reverse the onus for criminals who have been found guilty of offences involving usury, procuring, robbery or fraud? That would cover not criminal organizations, but organized criminals. In cases of fraud exceeding $5,000, these criminals would be required to prove that the goods they acquired were paid for using legitimately earned funds. Failing that, the goods would be seized.
Believe it or not, the other parties rejected the amendments the Bloc Québécois proposed for Bill C-2.
We proposed attacking the street gang problem by giving the police better tools to work with, such as longer warrants for investigations using GPS tracking. As I said earlier, Quebec society is a little farther ahead than the rest of Canada. GPS technology is an integral part of fighting crime in Quebec. Unfortunately, the proposed amendments do not include this suggestion made by the Bloc Québécois.
We proposed a ban on wearing signs, symbols or other indications that identify individuals as belonging to groups recognized by court as criminal organizations.
Once again, we struck at organized criminal groups. Quebec fought a battle. It went very well. We are lucky to have with us in the House the former minister responsible for public security in Quebec, the hon. Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who did an excellent job in that position. He went after organized criminal groups directly, with the support of the Bloc Québécois, by amending the Criminal Code to provide for reverse onus of proof. We did well. We wanted to ban the wearing of insignia by criminal groups, organized gangs of bikers and others, but this amendment to Bill C-2 was rejected.
We wanted to put an end to the rule whereby time spent in detention prior to trial was doubled for sentencing purposes. A sentence would begin at the moment of detention rather than at the time of sentencing, in order to put an end to an abusive practice which did no credit to the administration of justice.
We discovered that, when the rule is applied, that is, when an individual is taken into custody prior to trial, the time involved is doubled in the sentence. This is standard, and criminals have obviously understood it. So they put off their trial as long as possible since, when they are in custody prior to trial, they get a bonus of double time and a reduced sentence.
Quebec society understood it well because of the fight against organized crime and all that. We put these amendments forward, but, unfortunately, none of the ones we put forward was passed, even though some have the unanimous approval of the ministers of public security in Quebec and other provinces.
This exemplifies the Conservative government, which has its blinkers on tight, which conducts polls with very specific focus, and which tells us that no changes will be allowed to a bill and that it will be made a vote of confidence.
So, the Bloc Québécois will support the conclusions of Bill C-2, except we would have liked to improve it. However, once again, the sway of power over these Conservative men and women is such that they are self absorbed. They show no desire to improve bills. They think that they are right, that truth and life are within their power and are in the end opposed to any idea of improvement.
This is what power has done to them. We will see what happens in the next election. As I am the Bloc's chief organizer, I want to reiterate that we will support the bill, not because we are frightened by the possibility of a vote of confidence, but because we think it will further the fight against organized crime, even though this is not the way we would have chosen.
Here is an example. I am getting to the core of Bill C-2. It combines five bills, including one that strengthens the provisions on offences involving firearms. It is perfect. Initially, Bill C-10 was simply being repeated. That bill sought to amend the Criminal Code to increase minimum prison sentences to five, seven or 10 years, depending on whether the crime was a repeat offence, for eight serious offences involving the use of a firearm, if the weapon used was not a hunting rifle. Once again, we see the Conservative vision. It is a weapon, but not a hunting weapon.
For anyone who follows these things, hunting rifles have changed considerably over the past 30 years. First of all, they are no longer made of the same materials and they are very light. This often makes it very difficult for law enforcement. I would like to believe that no hunters will use their weapons, except there is no longer a registry. Indeed, the goal of the Conservatives is to eliminate the gun registry, claiming that only hunters are going to acquire weapons. Yet, given the new technology, more and more criminals are going to use long guns—as they like to call them—precisely because they are lighter, thanks to new technology and so on. The Conservative philosophy wants to protect long guns. Naturally, to do so, there can be no registry. After all, no one who has a long gun is a criminal.
I am sorry, but plenty of cabins get robbed and hunters' weapons make their way into the criminal networks. Yet, this legislative amendment would not apply to those who have firearms. And I repeat, when it comes to these offences involving firearms, for instance, it says “if the weapon used is not a hunting weapon”. Consequently, the bill deals with all weapons except hunting weapons.
I have a great deal of difficulty understanding that, but I can understand the Conservative philosophy behind it. To the Conservatives, you can do anything with a hunting weapon. It is as simple as that. That is all there is to it. There is a reason they want to abolish the gun registry.
I would like to digress for a moment. In Quebec, 95% of hunters registered their guns. This is no problem, because there are no longer any fees. We supported the amendment that eliminated the renewal fee. Since people had already registered their guns, no one lost any sleep over this, except in the west, where the situation is reversed, obviously. Westerners were opposed to the registry from the start and decided not to register their guns. Today, to please western Canada, the Conservatives have once again decided to abolish the gun registry, even though hunters in the rest of the country could live with it. This Conservative approach to governing is evident in this bill.
Once again, all we want to say to the people who are watching is that, yes, bills have to evolve. That is true, but we have to be careful. We must not succumb to the sensationalism of the media, which will not hesitate to blow any accident or crime out of proportion to sell newspapers or get people to watch newscasts. Yet statistics prove that Quebec's approach, which consists of rehabilitating criminals by giving them every possible opportunity to work their way back into society, is much more effective at reducing the crime rate than the punitive approach some societies have opted for, as the Conservatives would like to do.