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
(This bill did not become law.)
- 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.
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.
Motions in amendment
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / 1:40 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-2. I hope that my colleague from Wild Rose will remain with us so that we can have the kind of discussion that we had during our review of some other bills that have been adopted.
To begin, I wish to pay tribute today to the hon. Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and probably one of the greatest criminal lawyers that the Canadian legal profession has known. As a criminal lawyer myself, I had the opportunity to get to know Mr. Justice Lamer, not at the Supreme Court, unfortunately, but through studying, analyzing and relying on decisions he had handed down. We know that in the years between 1980 and 2000, Mr. Justice Lamer and the Supreme Court rendered decisions taking into account the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that came into force in 1982. I pay heartfelt tribute to the hon. Justice Lamer. He played a significant role in the interpretation of the legislation that we must debate here and that will eventually be applied to the people of Canada, and in particular, of Quebec.
To return to Bill C-2, this is a strange bill called an omnibus bill. It brings together Bill C-10, dealing with minimum penalties for offences involving firearms; Bill C-22, which deals with the age of protection; Bill C-27, concerning dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace; Bill C-32, on impaired driving; and Bill C-35, concerning reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences.
That said, the government wants to put together a package of bills into a single omnibus bill and have it passed. Right away, I should say that several of those bills, three in particular, had already reached the Senate but died on the order paper when the Conservative government decided to produce a new Speech from the Throne.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour and will be in favour of the principle of Bill C-2. We feel that former bills C-10, C-22 and C-35 have already been debated in this House. I myself have spoken against one of those bills. Nonetheless, as a great democrat, I am respecting the decision of this House and we will respect the democratic choice that was made to move forward with these bills.
However, I want to point out that a number of these bills, Bill C-27 on dangerous offenders in particular, deserved and still deserve a more in-depth review. The problem is that when a person commits a third offence from a list of a dozen very serious offences, there will be reverse onus of proof. Personally—I talked about this with my party and here in this House—I have always been against the reverse onus of proof because this implies that the accused has to incriminate himself and provide explanations or be held responsible.
Nonetheless, Bill C-2, and former Bill C-27, resolve part of the problem. Once criminals have to be monitored, there are reasons they have to appear before the court and the court has reasons for asking them why they would not be considered dangerous criminals who have to be monitored for a long time, in light of the offences they committed.
The Bloc Québécois wants to be very clear on this. We need to deal first and foremost with poverty, social inequality and exclusion, a fertile breeding ground for frustration and its outlets, which are violence and criminal activity. There is no point to just passing legislation; one day we will really have to think about how to attack crime. If we do not attack it by dealing with poverty and exclusion, some people will see no other way out except crime. Crime is not a solution of course, but some people see it as one.
The measures we introduce will really have to have a positive impact on crime and go beyond mere rhetoric or campaigns based on fear. They will have to be more than a weak imitation of the American model, which has had less than stellar results.
The crime problem in Canada cannot be solved—and I say this with great respect for the House—by imposing minimum prison terms or reversing the onus of proof but by dealing instead with a problem that has festered for far too long: criminals get out of jail too soon. Canadians are genuinely shocked that people sentenced to 22, 36, 48, or 52 months in jail are released after 5, 6 or 7 months.
Our friends across the aisle will have to understand some day that we cannot reduce crime by passing tougher laws but by ensuring that criminals who have been sentenced actually serve their time. This is the key factor and one of the obvious problems in Canadian society. Tougher laws will not ensure that people serve longer sentences. This is what will happen: the judges and courts will probably revise their decisions thinking that they are too onerous and tough. Contrary to what the Conservatives say, section 2 of the Charter applies and if a law is too harsh or a sentence almost too tough for a criminal, the court can revise this decision.
There are a number of objectives therefore. We know what Bill C-2 is all about. It strengthens the provisions on offences involving firearms by creating two new firearms-related offences and increasing the minimum prison terms. However, even increased minimum prison terms will not solve the problem. People are not frightened off by the possibility of long-term imprisonment but by the likelihood of being caught. We will have to check how judges and the police apply it.
I do not have a lot of time left. I would therefore like to say quickly as well that we need to do something about impaired driving. We hope that the police will find ways of determining the presence of drugs in the bodies of drivers. We still do not know how. When I sat on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, all the experts who came to testify said that no machine could detect whether someone had consumed cocaine or smoked marijuana and whether it was influencing his driving.
This is an important bill and I hope that when the House passes it, the Senate will also quickly do so. I know that some of the provisions to be amended by Bill C-2 will be studied by the courts and probably the Supreme Court over the next few years.
Motions in amendment
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / 1:40 p.m.
Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is wonderful to hear the Conservatives constantly repeat their mantra “hard on crime”. I think they are hard on people who cannot defend themselves. They are not hard on crime; they are stupid on crime. U.S. crime policy is what they want. Tough measures, similar to what is in the Tories' omnibus bill, are costly and pointless. That is what the report found. Nobody has disappeared.
Our party's amendments added value to Bill C-9 and Bill C-10. We are respectful of people. We are respectful of understanding a holistic approach. Nobody in our party is soft on crime and the member should understand that.
Motions in amendment
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON
Mr. Speaker, as I was mentioning, as parliamentarians we have to be cognizant and not pass bad legislation. We have to ensure that we do not interfere in the justice process as well.
These bills were thoroughly debated when they came before committee. Bills have to be handled properly if they are to get through Parliament. If they are to be handled properly, they have to be prioritized. It appears the Conservatives have no priorities. They only want to create a hodgepodge of stuff.
On October 26, 2006, the Liberals offered to fast track a package of justice bills through the House. These included Bill C-9, as it had been amended, Bill C-18, the DNA identification legislation, Bill C-19, the street racing legislation, Bill C-22, the age of consent legislation, Bill C-23, the animal cruelty legislation and Bill C-26, respecting payday loans. This offer effectively guaranteed that the Conservatives would have a majority to pass the legislation.
On March 14, the Leader of the Opposition added Bill C-35, the bail reform legislation, to the list of bills the Liberal caucus would fast track. Despite this offer, it took the Conservatives until May 30 to get the bill through committee. If the Conservatives were so keen on being hard on crime, as they have claimed, they should have taken this offer.
According to a report entitled “Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America’s Prison Population”, produced by the JFA Institute, the tough measures, which the government claims it is bringing through its omnibus bills, are costly and pointless. The report says that due largely to tough on crime policies, there are now eight times as many people in U.S. prisons and jails as there were in 1970, yet the crime rate today in the U.S. is about the same as it was in 1973. There is little evidence that the imprisonment binge has had much impact on crime.
As legislators, we are supposed to be here to pass good legislation, not bad legislation. We are here to debate and to amend. Amendments were proposed to the bills and the members of the Conservative Party on the committee did not want to pass them.
It is important that we reflect on what these bills talked about.
Bill C-10 talked about minimum penalties. It proposed five years for a first offence and seven years on a second or subsequent offence for eight specific offences involving the actual use of firearms, attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery, extortion and when the offence was gang related or if a restricted or prohibited firearm such as a handgun was used.
The bill was brought to committee and the committee made the necessary amendments. The committee still has very grave concerns that the bill needs to be properly documented and it has to be properly put in place so legislators know the intent of the legislation.
There is the creation of two new offences, an indictable offence of breaking and entering to steal a firearm and an indictable offence of robbery to steal a firearm. There is no difference with the version of Bill C-10, which passed through the House, and the language used in Bill C-2.
The question to be asked is why then group this in an omnibus bill? No one on the government side seems to give us an answer. All the members do is repeat their mantra that they are hard on crime. However, as I pointed out, the U.S. crime policy, which they so desperately want to follow, fails the system. It does nothing right.
Bill C-22, which was the age of protection bill, proposed to raise the age at which youth could consent to non-exploitative sexual activity. The age would be raised from 14 to 16 years of age and the age of protection of 18 years would be maintained for exploitative sexual activities.
Through amendments, the committee brought about a five year close in age. This was not there when it was proposed by the government. Therefore, another question arises. What happened to the good amendments in the mandatory minimum penalties in the age of protection?
What about Bill C-23, which was criminal procedure? According to the Official Languages Act, the committee ensured that there were changes to the bill. We said that a person who was a French-speaking person, if he or she were in court, should get a French counsel. It is important to protect language rights. In a country that has two official languages we have to protect minority rights as well. Why is this bill not mentioned at all?
Bill C-27 deals with dangerous offenders. It would provide that an offender who was serving a long term supervision order in the community and who was violating the conditions of the order would be guilty of an offence and the crown could choose to hold a dangerous offender hearing following convictions.
That was originally proposed by the Liberal justice critic. The bill would expand the possible sentence available to a judge following a finding that an individual would be a dangerous offender. The judge could now impose a long term supervision order or simply impose the sentence for the offence for which the offender had been convicted in addition to the previous option of detention in prison for an indeterminate period, which was previous available.
The Conservatives love to introduce bills. They want to take credit for a lot of things and make it on the six o'clock news. If something does not make the six o'clock news, like Bill C-23 because it was protecting minority language rights, they do not bother.
The last bill I will speak about is Bill C-32, the drug recognition experts to conduct roadside sobriety tests. It is good to promise all sorts of things, but there is no funding. When we do not have funding, how will we get these experts? For example, in Seacow Pond where would we get a person who is an expert?
It is very important that when we prepare bills and we make promises, those promises have to be kept. We have to provide the legislators with enough resources.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / 1:25 p.m.
Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-2. The bill, which is an omnibus bill, combines five previously introduced Conservative justice bills into one, Bill C-10, Bill C-22, Bill C-27, Bill C-32 and Bill C-35.
Canadians need to know what exactly this omnibus bill is really about. It is an omnibus bill that tries to combine five pieces of legislation together. Why is it necessary to combine all these bills and how will it affect legislators?
What is the intent of the Conservatives in getting all these bills together when they were fast-tracked previously? They were debated in committee thoroughly, amendments were made, and these amendments strengthened the bill and the legislation.
We, as parliamentarians, have a responsibility, and the responsibility is to be cognizant--
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / 1:10 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate at report stage motion on Motion No. 2, and generally on Bill C-2, which is an omnibus bill consolidating five previously introduced justice bills.
I would encourage members to look back to the last session to the speech of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh in which he gave his, I think, respected views to the House about the problem with introducing 10 or so bills in sequence, all of which would have to go to the justice committee, which could not possibly deal with them all at once.
It would have to deal with them one at a time. By doing that, the government was basically frustrating the process. We should have had an omnibus bill right from the beginning of the last session in order to include some of these items where the same witnesses could have appeared and the same or similar Criminal Code amendments or whatever might have been introduced.
I want to encourage members to look at that speech because what is happening right now with Bill C-2 is exactly what the member said. I think that is why this House honoured that member as the most knowledgeable member of Parliament in a recent survey. I congratulate him on that. It was well-deserved and earned, and I think his record shows it.
I asked the member earlier about whether or not there were certain conditions or criteria or exceptions that would be taken into account with regard to sentencing and penalties as prescribed under the Criminal Code. I specifically mentioned fetal alcohol spectrum disorder not only because it is a matter that I am interested in, and I have tried to do some work on, but because there is clear evidence and testimonials by lawyers and by judges that as much as half of the people who appear before the criminal courts suffer from alcohol-related birth defects.
People who suffer from alcohol-related birth defects, like some form of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, have a problem understanding the difference between right and wrong. They have brain damage. They are in a situation where it is a permanent condition. They are in a situation which cannot be rehabilitated, and yet we have a criminal justice system which says that if people do something wrong, they go to jail. They go there, and what do we do? We put them in a program of rehabilitation
I see a tremendous contradiction in suggesting that somehow all persons in Canada who may run afoul of the laws of Canada and be guilty of a criminal offence have to be subject to the same identical sanctions and criteria for those sanctions. There are certain circumstances for which I believe they should not be.
I wanted to put that on the table because it is not good enough to just have a slogan of “Let's get tough on crime”. It is not good enough for me. I do not think it is good enough for Canadians. We have to be smart on crime. We need to spend as much time on crime prevention as we do on tough penalties and hope that it is a deterrence.
When we talk about mandatory minimums, we are not touching the prescribed maximums. They are still there. They are a discretion, but when we have mandatory minimums, what we do is in fact impinge on the judicial discretion.
Every case is different. I thought that under the laws of Canada, we would have a system which would be responsive to the facts on a case by case basis, taking into account that a crime has occurred, but what were the circumstances?
We do know if there is mental incompetence, there are certain possibilities. We do know if there is coercion or there is some other problem, that it may be taken into account in sentencing, but when we get into the situation of mandatory minimums, it gives the judge no latitude whatsoever to have sentences which would be lower and prescribe, in lieu of that, some other treatment, rehabilitation or appropriate assistance because this person had some extraordinary circumstances.
I wanted to raise that. The previous Liberal government brought in mandatory minimums. There is a level, but we should not raise them to levels in which the mandatory minimums are so high that we in fact impinge on judicial discretion.
I have given this speech before, but I wanted to reiterate that I have no problem with being firm on crime, to strengthen the dangerous offenders provisions for criminals, for bad people, for repeat offenders. Those are important. Canadians expect that. Our legal system must reflect that. We have to deal with those things and we have to have the tools, but what is being created here is somewhat more rigid and maybe not as effective as it otherwise might be.
I raise it for members to be considering as we do this. I am pretty sure that we are going to have support for the omnibus bill, but I think that we are going to always have to be vigilant about what we have done, and what the implications and results are of taking those steps. We have to make sure that we are vigilant enough to make sure that maybe we have gone too far. It is now going to be up to the legislators to be able to monitor what they have done. Hopefully we have not gone too far, but I am still concerned about the issue of judicial discretion.
Bill C-10, which is part of this omnibus bill, deals with the mandatory minimum penalties. It creates two new offences: an indictable offence for breaking and entering to steal a firearm, and an indictable offence of robbery to steal a firearm.
Since there are five bills here, it is impossible for any member to deal with the entire omnibus bill. It is almost impossible for a committee to properly do some of these things when so much is piled on. Where is the prioritization here? There are certainly things that had to be done. There is no disagreement in this place. It could have been fast-tracked through this place.
There is no reason why some of these bills had to be in this omnibus bill. They should have been brought back at the same stage of legislation, and they should have been passed promptly and swiftly, sent to the Senate, returned here, given royal assent and become law in Canada.
I do not know whether there is other work to do in terms of regulations or other matters, but when we have something that is the right thing to do, let us take the most expeditious and the least litigious route to get there. What we have done is taken the longest route and the most convoluted route to get important legislation through, and I do not understand why. What is the motivation of the government to do this?
It piled on 10 bills in the last Parliament. We could not possibly do it, yet the Prime Minister, in the last press conference I saw him give on this, said the Liberals delayed the bill for 1,000 days. We have not been here 1,000 days. I am pretty sure we have not. That also is calendar days and it includes the five months that the House of Commons was not even sitting and could not hear these bills, although a committee could choose to sit outside of the time. It did not take into account the fact that when the justice committee is sitting and dealing with a bill, the other nine bills are waiting to be dealt with. We have to deal with one at a time.
It appears that there is a strategy simply to keep bills in front of this place, to continue to parrot throwaway lines like “I am tough on crime”, but not to deliver effective legislation on a timely basis, which is what we need. That is the issue here.
The Conservatives think Canadians are going to just roll over and say, “Yes, we want to be tough on crime”. They better understand what underlies that because we have some issues here. There are not enough of us, I do not believe, to defeat this omnibus bill, but I think that this approach and what the government has done with regard to these bills has been such that the public interest has not been properly served.
I have a lot more to say and I would ask for the unanimous consent of the House to continue on for another 10 minutes.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, also known as the tackling violent crime act.
I have significant problems with this bill and with the Conservative government's approach to crime in general. The Conservatives are adopting a U.S. style crime agenda that says they are tough on crime but begs the question of what measures are actually effective in reducing crime and making Canadians safer. There is a lot of sloganeering but very little that shows these measures would actually make Canadians safer and give us more effective crime legislation.
The measures in Bill C-2 focus on punishment and incarceration. We know this is the least effective part of an approach to reducing crime in our society. Incarceration does not work to reduce crime and more prisons do not reduce crime. The evidence shows that, at best, there is no relationship between increasing incarceration and reducing crime or, at worst, that these approaches increase crime and become counterproductive.
Many U.S. jurisdictions that went down this tough on crime incarceration road have recognized that these measures do not work and have begun to undo them. As has been mentioned already this morning in debate, a recent report titled “Unlocking America” exposes the fact that incarceration has not worked to reduce crime and, in many cases, has increased the violent crime rate.
What does work? We know that more enforcement, more police on the beat, increasing the possibility of being caught and increasing the possibilities for detection and apprehension do work. Unfortunately, this is one place where the Conservatives are breaking a promise to increase the number of police on the beat in our communities.
We know that community policing, increasing the opportunities for police to develop real relationships with members of the community, also reduces crime. We know that prevention measures work. Working to address issues like drug addiction, family dislocation, poverty and providing parenting support, all those measures go toward reducing crime in our society.
We know that parole and release programs work. I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to sit in on a support group for sex offenders in the Vancouver area. I saw the kind of work that happens in that kind of setting. I was very impressed with the way that session proceeded and the kind of support that was being offered. I was also very concerned to hear from those folks that access to psychiatric and psychological support was very limited in the Vancouver area.
We also know that restorative justice programs work. Those programs seek to help offenders assume responsibility for their crime and restore the relationships that have been broken in the community because of that crime. We need more of those programs.
COSA, Circle of Support and Accountability, is a Canadian pioneered post-release program that matches community members with offenders. It is a support and accountability mechanism. Sadly, this program has not received the kind of support it deserves from the government, especially when other countries have adopted it.
Bill C-2 includes provisions in the old Bill C-10 on mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed with a gun. We know that mandatory minimum sentences, of themselves, do not reduce crime. They do, however, reduce or eliminate judicial discretion, which is the ability of a judge, having reviewed all the evidence and knowing the person involved, to make a decision based on the facts of the case and of the individual involved. This is an important principle. I do not believe there is one judge sitting on the bench who wants to see serious crime go unpunished.
The cost of keeping someone in prison is $94,000 a year. Evidence shows that programs that support someone on parole or a drug treatment program for an addicted criminal are 15 times more effective than incarceration in ensuring he or she does not reoffend.
In testimony before the committee on Bill C-2, the president of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said that the government must stop using prisons as a substitute for mental health services, public housing or shelters for women escaping violence.
Bill C-2 also includes a reverse onus on dangerous offenders designation, that it would kick in after a third offence and that there would be a presumption that the person was a dangerous offender. It would be up to the offender to prove he or she was not a dangerous offender. When we are talking about a dangerous offender designation, we are talking about life in prison.
Reverse onus has very serious implications for our criminal justice system. Having reviewed the testimony presented at the standing committee, I am convinced, as were many of the experts who testified, that this section of the bill would not survive a charter challenge.
When the state is seeking to jail someone for life, the burden should be on the state to prove the necessity of that imprisonment. That is the case with the current law. To put this burden on the person who has been convicted is unjust, to put it simply. It would only increase the inequity of our criminal justice system where wealthy people would be able to muster the resources to mount a case and everyone else would be more likely to fail because they would not have the money to do so. Legal aid costs would skyrocket given the huge costs associated with this type of process.
Why does the bill suggest measures of automatic designation of dangerous offenders only after a third conviction? Surely, if someone is a dangerous offender, we should be looking at dealing with them sooner and ensuring the system has the resources to do that sooner.
Reverse onus has other serious problems. Judicial discretion, which I have already spoken about, would be removed. It would eliminate the ability of the accused to remain silent and it would incarcerate people on the basis of what they might do rather than what they have done. Our ability to predict behaviour is notoriously poor. What it boils down to is essentially a measure of preventive detention.
I also want to point out that aboriginal people are already overrepresented among those who have been designated as dangerous offenders in Canada. Twenty per cent of the dangerous offenders are aboriginal and this would increase as a result of the bill. Something is seriously wrong with this measure when 20% of those subject to it represent a group that only represents 3% of the total population of Canada. This legislation would only make this problem worse and it would also increase the family dislocation and social costs that aboriginal communities already experience because of incarceration rates.
Bill C-2 also includes measures on the age of consent, and I have already spoken extensively about this. I believe the existing age of consent legislation is excellent and comprehensive legislation. This bill would criminalize sexual activity for young people, especially those 14 or 15 years of age. No matter what we think of young people being sexually active, I do not believe the criminal justice system is the place to deal with that issue when a consensual, non-exploitive relationship is involved.
We must be smart on crime. We know enforcement, parole, community programs, social programs, addressing inequality and a change in our approach to drugs do work. Drugs are a significant factor in both petty crime and serious violent crime. Alcohol prohibition did not work and it caused exactly the same problems that we now face due to drug prohibition. We need more treatment programs for addictions and more harm reduction measures, not more jail time. That does not work.
Bill C-2 goes in exactly the wrong direction. It buys into a model that has been proven to have failed in the United States where many jurisdictions are already seeking to undo the damage done by this exact approach. I have very serious reservations about this legislation.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / 12:15 p.m.
Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in today's debate at report stage of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
Briefly, on October 18, the Minister of Justice tabled omnibus Bill C-2, which regroups the main “law and order“ bills that were introduced by the government, during the first session of the 39th Parliament.
Indeed, Bill C-2 includes defunct Bills C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act, C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace), C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, and C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences).
Those who are listening to us should know that this government bill provides nothing new. During the last session, I had the opportunity to take part in the debate and to express Quebec's vision on justice, as it relates to several of those bills.
In fact, before prorogation, three of those bills were already before the Senate, namely Bills C-10, C-22 and C-35. As for the other two, that is Bills C-27 and C-32, they were in the last stages of the parliamentary process in the House.
However, all these bills died on the order paper, when the Conservative government itself decided, for purely partisan motives, to end the parliamentary session and to present a new Speech from the Throne.
Today, we find ourselves debating again the work that has already been accomplished in the House. This is why, when the government pretends to be the only one going to bat for innocent people through rehashed and amended legislation, I cannot help but wonder about such a preposterous claim.
The people of Quebec deserve that crime be tackled seriously, without playing petty politics with fundamental rights, and, above all, they deserve to be presented with the real picture. For those interested in politics, I point out that the Bloc Québécois was fully involved in the review process for Bill C-2, in spite of the very tight timeframe, to consider all aspects of that bill. My colleagues and myself believe that any bill of such importance, which could have such a significant impact on the people, has to be thoroughly examined.
It would, however, be somewhat tedious to examine again amendments made previously. With respect to former bills C-10, C-22 and C-35, in our opinion, the parliamentary debate has already taken place and the House has already voted in favour of those bills. We therefore respect the democratic choice that has been made. As for former Bill C-32, which died on the order paper before report stage, we had already announced our intention: we would be opposing it. This brings me to the part stemming from former Bill C-27, about which we expressed serious reservations at the time but which we nonetheless examined in committee so that it would be reviewed responsibly.
In short, the provisions in Bill C-2 which stem from former Bill C-27 amend the Criminal Code to provide that the court shall find an offender who has been convicted of three serious crimes to be a dangerous offender, unless the judge is satisfied that the protection of society can be appropriately ensured with a lesser sentence.
At present, the dangerous offender designation is limited to very serious crimes, such as murder, rape and many others, and to individuals who present a substantial risk to reoffend. An individual may be found to be a dangerous offender on a first conviction, when the brutality and circumstances of the offence leave no hope of the individual ever being rehabilitated.
We have some concerns regarding Bill C-27, particularly the impact of designating a greater number of dangerous offenders and reversing the onus of proof, two processes that definitely increase the number of inmates and that are contrary to the wishes of Quebeckers as to how offenders should be controlled.
We are not the only ones who have expressed concerns with regard to this aspect of Bill C-27. My colleague for Windsor—Tecumseh is proposing an amendment today that would remove the reverse onus of proof found in this bill. He believes it would not survive a charter challenge. Even though we realize that this amendment could lead to improvements in Bill C-2, we will reject it because the Conservative government, in attempting to govern with contempt for the majority in the House of Commons, would link this amendment to a confidence vote.
With regard to amendments, I repeat that the Bloc Québécois is aware that many improvements must be made to the current judicial system and that changes to the Criminal Code are required. The government must intervene and use the tools at its disposal enabling citizens to live in peace and safety. In our own meetings with citizens we identified specific concerns as well as the desire to change things by using an original approach. We wanted to make a positive contribution meeting the aspirations of our fellow citizens.
We therefore proposed a number of amendments that my colleague the member for Hochelaga, right here, worked very hard on with the caucus. We prepared a series of amendments to improve the bill and the justice system. These are complementary measures that will strengthen its effectiveness.
We proposed, among other things, realistic amendments to eliminate parole being granted almost automatically after one-sixth of a sentence has been served and 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.
Another amendment was aimed at attacking the street gang problem—with which my colleague from Hochelaga is very familiar—by giving the police better tools, in particular, by extending the warrants for investigations using GPS tracking.
We put forward many other amendments. Unfortunately, none of them was accepted, even though some amendments are unanimously supported by the public security ministers of Quebec and other provinces. Consequently, Bill C-2 was not amended in any way during committee review. It is a shame that the Conservative government once again preferred an approach based on ideology rather than democracy. It preferred to combine bills that, for the most part, had already been approved by the House of Commons, rather than focusing on some others that deserved very close examination. Above all, it is refusing to improve Bill C-2 with respect to practical priorities.
In putting forward its amendments, the Bloc Québécois has remained consistent with its objective of using effective and appropriate measures to evaluate the relevance of each bill. It has also demonstrated its concern for prevention of crime, which should be high priority. Attacking the deep-rooted causes of delinquency and violence, rather than cracking down when a problem arises is, in our opinion, a more appropriate and, above all, more profitable approach from both a social and financial point of view.
That must be very clear. The first step must be to deal with poverty, inequality and exclusion in all forms. These are the issues that create a fertile breeding ground for frustration and its outlets, which are violence and criminal activity.
However, it is essential that the measures presented should actually make a positive contribution to fighting crime. It must be more than just rhetoric or a campaign based on fear. It must be more than an imitation of the American model and its less than convincing results.
I mention the important fact that for the past 15 years criminal activity has been steadily decreasing in Quebec, as it has elsewhere in Canada. Statistics Canada confirmed just recently that for the year 2006 the overall crime rate in Canada was at its lowest level in more than 25 years. What is more, Quebec recorded the smallest number of homicides since 1962. Indeed, in violent crimes, Quebec ranks second, just behind Prince Edward Island. Quebec also recorded a drop of 4% in the crime rate among young people in 2006, which was better than all other provinces. Those are solid facts which should serve as an example to this government and on which it should base its actions.
I will close by saying that we will be supporting Bill C-2 at third reading, on its way to the Senate. However, I remind the House that we were in favour of four of the five bills that are now included in Bill C-2 and those bills would have already been far advanced in the parliamentary process if the government had not prorogued the House for purely partisan reasons.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / noon
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, at report stage of Bill C-2, to deliver some comments to the omnibus crime bill.
I have had the experience of serving on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and also the legislative committees that were involved with the former Bills C-10, C-22, C-27, C-32, C-35 and C-23, which is not part of the omnibus bill.
I speak with experience at least with respect to the bills and I understand how we came to be here today to speak about what the bill contains. A lot of discussion took place in the debates of the House and in committee with respect to the direction we should take with respect to our criminal justice.
It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to consider what we do when we amend the Criminal Code and its corollary acts. We are dealing with the Criminal Code. It is an organic document. It changes with the times. It is copied and exemplified by one of Canada's justice ministers and prime ministers, Sir John Thompson, from eastern Canada. It has certainly changed with the times as has our society.
In the 1890s the crimes that were top priority might have been things like cattle and horse theft, murder and some common ones. However, with the changing times, we have seen a proliferation of gang related violence, e-crimes, things that would not have existed at the turn of the century.
The point of raising that is as our society changes and the code changes, we owe it to this place, to the committees, to the law enforcement official, which include prosecutors, policemen, probation workers, corrections officers, people in the correction system and judges, quite a fraternity of people involved in the criminal justice system, to say that we looked at these various laws. We looked at how Canada was changing and at the end, we did the very best we could to keep track of what tools would be best to tackle the new problems that exist in society. It is not as if we are inventing new aspects of law. Many of these bills represent an evolution or a progression of laws that already exist.
Just briefly on the guts of the bill, if you like, Mr. Speaker, Bill C-10, which is now part of C-2, was of course dealing with the mandatory minimum provisions which were increased by the introduction of this bill, but they were not increased as much as the government had wanted them to be originally.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the opposition Bloc Québécois critic on the committee as well as the Liberal members on the committee who fought very hard to have some sense reign over the debate with respect to the evidence that was adduced at the committee hearings regarding the efficacy of mandatory minimums in general.
A review is in order. Mandatory minimums existed before the Conservative government was elected. Mandatory minimums were in place for serious crimes with the known aspect of repeat offenders and with some hope, which studies will show one way or the other, that there might be a deterrent and a safety to the public aspect of mandatory minimums.
At least on this side we joined with the Conservatives who, I would say, were very sparse in their acknowledgement that mandatory minimums existed before they came into office, but we joined with them and said that these are good tools for the law enforcement agencies and good tools in the realm of criminal justice.
It is a matter always of how far we go. How far do we go in disciplining our children? Do we take away their favourite toy? Do we ban them from seeing their friends for two weeks? Are we less severe or more severe? Many of us are parents and we deal with this every day. It is our form of the justice system that rules in our own house.
With respect to mandatory minimums, it is a question of calibrating to what extent the mandatory minimums are useful, to what extent do they work, and to what extend should they be increased, if at all.
During the debate process we were very successful in getting the government to get off its basic premise, which is if it is good for the six o'clock news and sounds robust, steady and law and orderish, then it has to be good in the Criminal Code. That is where the slip from the cup to the lip occurred, where it was obvious 90% of the witnesses were saying that the severe mandatory minimums that the government side were proposing would be inefficacious.
We can be as tough as we want, but if it does not work, if it does not make society safer, then we have not posited a good solution to the problems that face our community, and that was the case when we looked at mandatory minimums.
The happy medium that exists in Bill C-2 I think will be borne out, but it is very important to remember that this is an organic process and we could be back here some day soon, perhaps, looking at mandatory minimums in general.
How more timely could it be than in today's Ottawa Citizen, a report called “Unlocking America” is reviewed. In this report, it makes it very clear that the mandatory minimums, one of the many tools used by the American government from the 1970s on when it was felt that the rise in criminal activity was abhorrent, was not as effective as the Americans would have hope it would have been. It left the United States with 2.2 million people behind bars, more than China. The nine authors, leading U.S. criminologists, said that they were convinced that they needed a different strategy.
I am happy to report that as a result of the efforts of the NDP, Bloc and the Liberal Party in general at committee, we did not go as far as the Conservative government wanted to, which was close to where the United States had been which now New York State and New York City admits, is ineffective.
The three effects of imprisonment, and emphasis only on imprisonment, at the cost of crime prevention dollars, if you like, Mr. Speaker, is that the heavy, excessive incarceration hits minorities very hard. In the United States, 60% of the prison population is made up of Blacks and Latinos.
We heard evidence at our committee that there is a preponderance, an over-exaggerated percentage, of first nations and aboriginal people in our jail system, according to their population, which is deplorable. It is overwhelming and undisputed that the negative side effects of incarceration outweigh the potential. That is the two bits on Bill C-10,
On the other bill, Bill C-22, the close in age exemption, was never brought up. Despite all the rhetoric from the government, nothing would save Bill C-22. The issue of sexual consent being given by a person of tender years has never been put forward by any member of the opposition while the Liberal Party was in power.
The close in age exemption was never put in there, so for members of the opposite side to say that finally we dealt with the issue of sexual exploitation of 14 year olds is simply not accurate. The close in age exemption, five years between a person of the age specified, will save many relationships that should not be criminalized.
I live in Acadia. And Bill C-23 included many improvements with respect to choosing the first language of prosecutors during a trial. French is the language spoken by most people in my province. That element was very important to us in Acadia, but the government overlooked this fact.
Why did the government turn its back on the francophone people of New Brunswick in this country?