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.

Sponsor

Vic Toews  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of May 30, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

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.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • 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.

Motions in amendment
Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

November 26th, 2007 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

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
Government Orders

November 26th, 2007 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

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
Government Orders

November 26th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

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
Government Orders

November 26th, 2007 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

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
Government Orders

November 26th, 2007 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

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
Government Orders

November 26th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

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 want to support very strongly the motion put forward by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh to delete the provisions of reverse onus that are included in Bill C-2.

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.

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November 26th, 2007 / 12:15 p.m.
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Bloc

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.

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November 26th, 2007 / noon
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Liberal

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.

Lastly, I noted that Bill C-23 was not included in Bill C-2. I have to wonder why.

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?

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November 23rd, 2007 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, we should not even be here debating this bill, which should have received royal assent last spring. The government has been playing games with Parliament. It is not governing and it uses Parliament as a political playground. It has shown a complete lack of respect towards Parliament.

The government refused the fast tracking offer of our party and it actively delayed these important initiatives while hoping for an election last spring in which they could run on their crime and punishment agenda.

As was mentioned by the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, I too would like to remind this House of the scenario from last spring. Bill C-10 received first reading on May 6 and was delayed 38 days before second reading, 146 days before it was sent to committee. The committee met 105 days and then from the committee report to report stage it took another 75 days. From report stage to third reading, it took 22 days.

Bill C-22 received first reading on June 22, 2006 and was delayed 130 days before second reading, 142 days before it was sent to committee. The bill was 29 days in committee, four days until the committee reported, 11 days to report stage, and then to third reading on the following day.

Bill C-27 received first reading on October 17, 2006 and was delayed 199 days before second reading on May 4, 2007, four days to committee, and then 36 days to report stage.

Bill C-32 received first reading on November 21, 2006 and was delayed 77 days before second reading, 113 days until it was sent to committee, and then 20 days in committee and the committee reported the following day.

Bill C-35, an act to amend the Criminal Code, received first reading November 23, 2006 and was delayed 123 days before second reading, two days before it went to the committee where it was studied for 61 days, and then one day until it was reported in the House. It took five days to report stage and one day until third reading.

This is no way to tackle violent crime. In fact, again the government is simply posturing and using the Parliament of this country as a little electoral toy, instead of actually taking this seriously. The Conservatives are only posturing. I have never been so disappointed, from the committees to the behaviour here, to see that these parliamentarians have not been allowed to act like parliamentarians because of this appetite for an election and a majority.

Last evening, at the End Exclusion 2007 conference, one of the members of the disability community said to me that social policy and social justice was homeless in the government. In terms of tackling violent crime, women with disabilities, who are the most abused, most often the victims of violent crime, want to see some policies that will affect them.

The seniors that we met with the member for London North Centre are very upset in terms of the people looking after them. Elder abuse no longer has automatic charges and the poor, vulnerable seniors are still asked as to whether or not they want to press charges.

From early learning and child care where we know we can help effect the behaviour of young children, to bullying programs, literacy programs, to cutting women's programs that affect the Interval houses, to the summer jobs program where kids can finally maybe find out that they are good at something, the government has consistently cut the prevention and the causes of violent crime.

I remember in 1995 when I ran provincially. We knew then what premier Harris was about to do. He cut the arts programs, the music programs, the sports programs, the homework clubs and the family counselling, and 10 years later we ended up with terrible trouble with guns and gangs.

At the Tumivut shelter in my riding, when I meet with some of the members of the black community, it has been absolutely horrifying to hear that the results of those cuts were really to people who did not feel included. The first time this young man said that he had ever felt included was when he joined a gang. The first time he was told that he was good at anything was when he was shoplifting.

It is very upsetting to see that the government just does not understand that investing in programs allows kids to find talents in art and music and find summer jobs. It is absolutely horrifying to think that this idea of just locking up people and throwing away the key will be the way to get a safer society.

Canada used to boast the lowest recidivism rate in the world because of what happened to people in prisons. That meant an education. They might even get a bachelor's degree. Some of them have even obtained law degrees. With anger management and drug rehabilitation programs, they have been able to come out with new talents, meet new friends, and never reoffend again.

We do not want our prisons to become schools for criminality, where people are trained for a life of crime. It is hugely important, as we look forward to the real challenge of tackling violent crime in the long term, that the government address the causes of crimes and the kinds of programs that are so important in our prison system.

I feel that I cannot stand in the House without commenting that the government has rendered this place and the committees of the House to an all time low in my 10 years as a parliamentarian. Members of Parliament are not allowed to speak freely in committee, they are scripted and rehearsed in the Prime Minister's Office. There is this unbelievable inability of cabinet ministers to even speak or show up at events they had booked themselves. As the Clerk of the House of Commons so often reminds us, this building is to be something more than to hang Christmas lights on.

It is appalling that we do not understand that the job of chairs of committees is not to dictate. Their job is to find the will of the committee and put it forward. They are not to have, like what happened yesterday in the health committee, the minister whispering in the chair's ear in the middle of the meeting. It is not up to the chair of a committee to decide, with 15 minutes to go, that the minister gets 15 minutes to sum up.

There seems to be an absolute lack of understanding of the role of the House and the role of committees in terms of really calling the government to account. Government reports to Parliament. It is not the other way around. No amendments mean no democracy. This is a travesty of the role of citizens.

I hope that in the next election people will see that the ballot box question will be whether citizens have a role at all after the next election because citizens have been silenced, members of Parliament have been silenced, and ministers are being instructed what to do. I worry for the democracy of this country should these people be allowed to govern any longer.

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November 23rd, 2007 / 12:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will remind the House what happened. We fought Bill C-10 in committee. The NDP, with its inflated egos and puffed up chests, says it is against mandatory minimum sentences. The Liberals, the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois fought the government and defeated those provisions of Bill C-10, a bill that would have imposed mandatory minimum sentences.

We are witnessing a contradiction on a scale I have never before seen in this House, since I arrived in 1993, and there is nothing we can do. The neo-Bolsheviks are resuscitating Bill C-10 with such a complete lack of consistency that I will never forget.

In closing, on the topic of softwood lumber, the Bloc Québécois aligned itself with the FTQ, the CSN and all those who defend the workers. This is why we are the strongest political party in Quebec, while the NDP remains at only 13% in the polls.

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November 23rd, 2007 / 12:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. Let me make something clear. Our problem with this bill has to do with mandatory minimum sentences. We have always been uncomfortable with such sentences.

The NDP members, our neo-Bolshevik friends, are introducing an amendment today when they and we defeated all the amendments to Bill C-10 in committee and kept only two provisions of that bill.

Which party was it that, in an act of complicity approaching intellectual treason, resurrected the bill?

I could not believe my ears. I asked Annie Desnoyers to pinch me. I could not understand why this party, which had defeated all the amendments to Bill C-10 in committee, was resurrecting the bill in the House of Commons.

The moral of this story is that I give my colleague A+ for courtesy, but D- for his party's consistency.

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November 23rd, 2007 / 12:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to continue. When I was interrupted, I was saying that the fight against organized crime had been a Bloc Québécois issue for a long time. I was citing the example of the anti-gang bill that I tabled in 1995. I also recalled the initiatives of the member for Charlesbourg who had worked on taking $1,000 bills out of circulation and who had presented the bill to reverse the onus of proof for proceeds of crime. That bill was passed unanimously in this House.

Bill C-2 before us may be considered a compilation of all the legislative measures initiated by the government since coming to power in February 2006. It contains five measures, including former bill C-10, which caused a great deal of difficulties. In fact, that bill established mandatory minimum sentences for offences involving firearms.

It also contains the former Bill C-22, which invites us to no longer talk about the age of consent, but the age of protection. It increases that age from 14 to 16, and has close in age clauses. The Bloc was worried about this. More specifically, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie clearly expressed our view to the media. We did not want young people who attend the same school and have non-exploitative sexual relations to be subject to charges. That is why a close in age clause, with a five-year age difference was established for 13 and 14 year olds. They may have non-exploitative sexual relations with young people of a similar age, on condition that the age difference does not exceed five years.

Bill C-2 also contains a former bill that also provided for reverse onus of proof at the pre-trial hearing stage. If a person commits an offence involving a firearm, the reverse onus of proof applies and that person, who could of course be released by a justice of the peace, must show that he or she is not a threat to society.

Lastly, Bill C-2 also incorporates the former Bill C-27. I discussed this with the member for Repentigny, and we found that this is the measure we have the most difficulty with. Even so, we will support this bill, but we would have liked this measure to have been reworked. These provisions reverse the burden of proof for individuals who have committed a third offence from a designated list.

Despite all that, we believe that the bill is reasonable and that it merits our support. However, we wanted to see greater discretion for the Crown. What makes us uncomfortable is our belief that the government is addressing the wrong priorities for justice. We wanted to see a plan to fight poverty or to address the bail and parole systems, particularly the accelerated review process. We also wanted to address the issue of individuals wearing colours and logos recognized by the court as representing criminal organizations.

We cannot have a balanced vision of justice without considering the causes of delinquency and the ways to ensure that everyone in our society has a fair chance.

Right now, the Bloc Québécois is especially committed to seniors and to addressing the guaranteed income supplement and the retroactivity issue. I would like to thank the member for Repentigny for his excellent work on this file. I am sure that my colleagues will join me in thanking him for all of his hard work.

In conclusion, we will support Bill C-2, but for the record, we were hoping for some adjustments. Nevertheless, we will support this bill.

October 31st, 2007 / 4 p.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

I'd like to take up where Ms. Jennings left off. I must admit that my understanding of the issue is somewhat muddled and I hope you can clarify things for me, Mr. Hoover.

Perhaps we did not agree with the proposed increase in minimum sentences in Bill C-10, but at least the proposal was clear. It was a matter of judicial philosophy and one could be either for or against the recommendation.

I don't quite understand and I would like you to explain where the problem lies for the prosecutor, who as we understand is often the crown. Why are the current provisions of the Criminal Code inadequate? Why does the government feel the need to put forward a list? You talk about primary designated offences, but as I understand it, there is also a list of secondary designated offences.

What is the problem, if I am a crown prosecutor and I want to invoke these provisions in the case of a dangerous offender? You told Ms. Jennings that the criteria were overly stringent, but could you be more specific? Don't be afraid of referring to administrative realities, because that will be a determining factor in whether or not we choose to back the provisions taken from the former Bill C-27. Administratively speaking, where does the problem lie at this time for the prosecutor trying a case in a court of law?

October 30th, 2007 / 4:35 p.m.
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Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm pleased to be joined at the table by Catherine Kane, the acting senior general counsel, criminal law policy section; and Douglas Hoover, counsel, criminal law policy section.

Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to appear before your committee as it begins its review of Bill C-10, the Tackling Violent Crime Act.

This is the government's first piece of legislation in this session of Parliament. The Tackling Violent Crime Act underscores our commitment to safeguard Canadians in their homes and on their streets and in their communities. It is a confidence measure. Bill C-10 reflects the depth of this unwavering commitment by the Government of Canada.

As a confidence measure, Bill C-10 reflects the depth of this unwavering commitment.

Canadians are losing confidence in our criminal justice system. They want a justice system that has clear and strong laws that denounce and deter violent crime. They want a justice system that imposes penalties that adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes and that rehabilitate offenders to prevent them from reoffending. Bill C-10 seeks to restore Canadians' confidence in our system by restoring their safety and security in their communities, and this is in fact what is reflected in the preamble to Bill C-2.

The proposed Tackling Violent Crime Act brings together five criminal law reform bills that we introduced in the previous session of Parliament. One of them, Bill C-10, imposed higher mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for eight specific offences involving the use of restricted or prohibited firearms or in connection with organized crime, which of course includes gangs, and also for offences that do not involve the actual use of a firearm--namely, firearm trafficking or smuggling--or the illegal possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm with ammunition. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces the former Bill C-10 as passed by the House of Commons.

It also includes one of my favourites, Bill C-22, which increased the age of consent for sexual activity from 14 to 16 years of age to protect young people against adult sexual predators. There is proposed, as I'm sure you are aware, a five-year close-in-age exception to prevent the criminalization of sexual activity between consenting teenagers. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces Bill C-22 as passed by the House of Commons.

It also includes Bill C-32, which addressed impaired driving by proposing the legislative framework for the drug recognition expert program and requiring participation in roadside and drug recognition expert sobriety testing; by simplifying the investigation and prosecution of impaired driving; and by proposing procedural and sentencing changes, including creating the new offences of being “over 80” and refusing to provide a breath sample where the person's operation of the vehicle has caused bodily harm or death. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces the former Bill C-32 as amended and reported back from the justice committee.

We also have Bill C-35, which imposes a reverse onus for bail for accused charged with any of eight serious offences committed with a firearm, with an indictable offence involving firearms or other regulated weapons if committed while under a weapons prohibition order, or with firearm trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking and firearm smuggling. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces the former Bill C-35 as passed by the House of Commons.

The Tackling Violent Crime Act also reintroduces reforms proposed by the former Bill C-27, addressing dangerous and repeat violent offenders, with additional improvements.

As I have noted, and with the exception of the dangerous offenders reforms, all of these reforms have been thoroughly debated, reviewed, and supported in the House of Commons.

These reforms included in Bill C-27 had not progressed to the same level of understanding and support in the previous session and now include additional improvements to address concerns that have been identified in the House of Commons as well as by my provincial and territorial counterparts. Let me take a moment to go through these reforms.

The Tackling Violent Crime Act retains all of the reforms previously proposed in Bill C-27 regarding peace bonds, which had been well received within the House of Commons and beyond. Accordingly, Bill C-10 proposes to double the maximum duration of these protective court orders from one to two years and to clarify that the court can impose a broad range of conditions to ensure public safety, including curfews, electronic monitoring, treatment, and drug and alcohol prohibitions.

I believe this particular provision will be well received across this country. Many people have complained for many years that by the time you get a one-year peace bond, it's too short a period of time, and that two years would be much more appropriate in terms of getting the bond and having it put in place.

Under this bill as well as under the former Bill C-27, crown prosecutors will still have to declare in open court whether or not they intend to bring a dangerous offender application where an individual is convicted for a third time of a serious offence.

We have retained some procedural enhancements to the dangerous offenders procedures, allowing for more flexibility regarding the filing of the necessary psychiatric assessments.

As in the former Bill C-27, an individual who is convicted of a third sufficiently violent or sexual offence is still presumed dangerous.

Bill C-10 also toughens the sentencing provision regarding whether a dangerous offender should receive an indeterminate or a less severe sentence. This amendment modifies Bill C-27's approach to make the courts impose a sentence that ensures public safety.

Finally, it includes a new provision that would allow a crown prosecutor to apply for a second dangerous offender sentencing hearing in the specific instance where an individual is convicted of breaching a condition of their long-term supervision order.

This second hearing targets individuals who were found by the original court to meet the dangerous offender criteria but were nonetheless able to satisfy the court that they could be managed under the lesser long-term offender sentence. If they show by their conduct, once released into the community, that they are not manageable and are convicted of the offence of breaching a condition of their supervision order, they would now be subject to another dangerous offender sentence hearing.

Importantly, this new proposal does not wait for the offender to commit yet another sexual assault or violent offence to bring the offender back for a second hearing for a dangerous offender sentence. Instead, it would be triggered simply by the offender's failure to comply with the conditions of his release contained in his long-term supervision order--for example, for failing to return to his residence before curfew or for consuming alcohol or drugs. Of course, this second hearing would also be triggered if the offender in fact did commit a further sexual or violent offence after his release into the community.

These new proposals directly respond to a serious problem identified by provincial and territorial attorneys general in recent months. Indeed, some of these issues have been flagged since about 2003. Since the 2003 judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Johnson case, many violent offenders who meet the dangerous offender criteria have nonetheless managed to escape its indeterminate sentence on the basis that they could be managed; that is, the risk of harm that they pose to the community could be successfully managed in the community under a long-term offender sentence.

So we reviewed the dangerous offender cases since the 2003 Johnson case and identified 74 such violent offenders. We then looked at how these individuals fared once they were released into the community. To date, 28 of these 74 dangerous offenders have been released into the community. Of these 28, over 60% were subsequently detained for breaching the conditions of their long-term supervision and 10 were convicted of breaching a condition of their long-term supervision orders.

Bill C-10 will prevent dangerous offenders from escaping the dangerous offender indeterminate sentence in the first place and will enable us to more effectively deal with those who nonetheless receive the long-term offender sentence but then demonstrate an inability to abide by the conditions of their long-term offender supervision order.

Of course I have carefully considered the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights in respect of the totality of these new dangerous offender reforms, and I am satisfied that they are fully constitutional. These measures have been carefully tailored to provide a prospective, targeted, and balanced response to the real and pressing problem posed by these dangerous offenders.

To sum up, Mr. Chairman, the Tackling Violent Crime Act proposes reforms that have already been supported by the House of Commons.

In the case of the new dangerous offender provisions, it proposes modifications that many have signalled an interest in supporting.

I appreciate the collaborative spirit this committee and members have shown thus far to enable the commencement of the review of Bill C-10, and it is my hope and that of all Canadians that this collaboration will continue to enable expeditious passage of this bill.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

October 30th, 2007 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Actually, I know that this will certainly be discussed at the steering committee, but I would have liked a look at it first. Do my colleagues want to see a list of all the witnesses? When we discussed it with our leaders, we definitely said that we wanted the committee to concentrate its efforts on the contentious matters from the previous session, that is to say Bill C-27.

I would not want us, for example, to hear again from all the witnesses that we heard in the last session when we were discussing Bills C-10, C-22, C-32 and C-37. I would like us to spend more time on Bill C-27 that caused us difficulty. I wonder if all my colleagues are of the same mind, given that it is more or less what the leaders agreed among themselves when they were discussing the legislative committee.