Bill C-23 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments)
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 8th, 2008 / 10:35 a.m.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
April 15th, 2008 / 4:50 p.m.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, there are several reasons I would like to get this bill to committee. I will talk about some of the positive items first because that will be a very short part of my speech, but I am pleased with the objectives of the bill to further inhibit organized crime, to prevent harm to youth, to increase security and to enhance health and safety.
I am also in favour of moving GHB and flunitrazepan from schedule III to schedule 1 so there can be more serious penalties for those date rape drugs. However, I have a lot of problems with this bill and I will go through a number of them now.
One of the reasons I would like to get the bill to committee is because the government does not seem to listen to the facts presented by the various opposition parties. At committee, it can once again hear evidence from the experts, as witness after witness comes forward with what are becoming pretty commonly known facts, and maybe get the government to change its direction so that its crime package will not be such a disaster and fall apart the way it has. Members will notice that it has fallen right off the radar screen because it has really been much of a disaster in a lot of ways, based on what these experts in the field have come forward with.
One of the reasons the government has had this great problem with its crime agenda is the process. Normally in the bureaucracy, in bringing forward government bills, the process is that experts, in whatever federal department, in this case the Department of Justice, who have had a lifetime of expertise to study what happens in other countries and to do studies on the effects, propose to the government effective potential changes.
When the justice committee was in Toronto, I asked one of the witnesses why we were getting so many bad bills that did not make any sense. He said that the process, from the bottom up, was not the process that was being followed by the government. It was not the normal legislative development. Of course, that would obviously lead to a number of problems that even would be beyond the control of the Conservative backbenchers, so I cannot blame them.
It is kind of ironic that the Conservatives called this justice week and an hour and a half ago, for the fourth time, their chair of the justice committee walked out again, halting all progress on justice bills like this and a whole line-up that we have at the justice committee, and actually not following the standing rules of order in doing that. It is ironic that it is justice week when no progress is being made in a number of committees that are looking at other types of justice issues.
In the United States, it has tried the mandatory minimums. I think a number of members have pointed that out. I will not get personal, as some have, but I will say that the results of sweeping mandatory minimums in the 1980s in the U.S.A. have been overcrowded prisons with no appreciable reduction in drug crime.
That is our closest example of something that does not work. Why, in heaven's name, would we in Canada want to implement something that has proven to be an abject failure? The problem is that not only would it be a failure for the objective that every member of Parliament here wants, which is to reduce drug crime, and I honestly believe everyone here wants that, but we would actually be moving backward.
What happens when we increase the numbers in prisons that are already overcrowded? We do not have enough treatment facilities. We do not have the capacity to deal with existing prisoners so they are corrected and healed and do not get out and hurt us or revictimize the victims who we are trying to protect. The whole problem is exacerbating and we are taking a step backward.
If we do not want to take the evidence from the United States, there are all sorts of studies showing that mandatory minimums, to a large degree, do not work except in some very select cases. However, in the area where it works the least is where the bill is focusing, and that is drug crimes. If members do not want to believe all the expert studies by professors from other places, experts who any normal academic or rational person would believe, they can go to the study done by the Department of Justice in 2002 which stated that mandatory minimums do not influence drug crime in any way.
Therefore, mandatory minimums in many ways are not helping the situation. As was mentioned on Monday, it is one of the negative aspects of the massive attack on judicial discretion that we have had under the government. Obviously, the more choices and options a judge has the more likely the judge will make the right decision on the alternative treatments and sentences that would help a person stop from reoffending and, once again, save victims and make society safer. Any time we put caps on that, we are reducing the potential to have a better outcome and a safer Canada.
An item in the bill suggests that the Conservatives may be understanding that a bit and going in the right direction. They have actually increased one of the maximum penalties from 7 to 14 years. Unlike most of their previous bills, which limited judicial discretion, a total mistake, as the academics have said, in this case they are expanding judicial discretion. They are actually making a maximum penalty longer, which may or may not be warranted but in some cases it would, and the judge would have that option to make Canada safer in that way.
A member of the government made an interesting comment when he commented on a statement made by a member of one of the opposition parties. He said that just because it does not work does not mean we should not do it. Of course it does not mean we should not do it. If we have a fire, everyone wants the fire out but throwing gasoline on it will not help. We do not do something that makes the matter worse. We look for another solution. A number of people have spoken about those options and I will speak to them later today.
The member for Cambridge talked about the crime rate in his riding expanding dramatically. Considering that crime in Canada has reduced over the years in general, that definitely is a big problem in his riding. If I were that member I would be looking at all the various solutions, such as more police officers, which the Conservatives had promised in their first term and which I think they are acting on now. It was a problem for the north. I am glad to see my colleague from Western Arctic here because the distribution of those police are on a per capita basis, which means that he and I get approximately one police person and assorted support to cover an area larger than any country in Europe. That will not make a lot of difference.
The member for Cambridge also mentioned that one of the biggest problems the police have night after night is dealing with drug problems because, once again, the prisons are not working and that system is not working. As we know, virtually everyone gets out of prison so obviously it is not working. The member should be looking at other solutions so that the police in his riding do not need to deal with a problem that has not been fixed. We have just delayed it for a few days or a few years, to whatever time offenders will get out.
When a member suggested a drop in the GST would solve the problem, one member went laughing from the House. Most of the people who are in such desperate straits do not have a huge amount of disposable income that would give them a substantial savings on the GST to head in the right way of life. Had the income tax rate not been increased by .25% in the Conservatives' first budget and another .25% in the following year, they at least would have had that off their basic income if they had any income at all.
The murder rate across Canada has gone down in the last 20 years. That point was made earlier.
There is an item I am pleased with in the bill. It would allow the drug treatment court to impose a penalty other than a mandatory sentence when an offender who has a previous conviction for a serious drug offence where the offence involves no aggravating factors and the offender successfully completes the DTC treatment program.
I commend the government for this move. This is a recognition that we have to deal with the problem, not just put it on hold for a year or two, so when the person is released it continues to be a problem. We can actually take a serious look at the problem. In fact, the government is making provision for the drug courts, which have proven to be successful in a number of cases, to seriously consider the problem. I commend that particular part of the bill.
I also commend the attack on organized crime. I support any items that would reduce organized crime, but once again, most of the speakers today have suggested that the bill would not have that effect. I want to read a quote from a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy. He is one of the most experienced experts in Canada. He said:
Organized crime doesn't care about the law. With these changes, the government is doing a service for organized crime.
That was from Eugene Oscapella, a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy at the University of Ottawa and once advised the Law Reform Commission of Canada.
The Law Reform Commission and the court challenges program, which the Conservative government unfortunately ditched, can no longer help improve lives. They probably could have given very wise advice in this particular area.
I am not saying it is my opinion because I do not know, but it has been suggested by others that this particular bill would scare off the lower criminals, the mom and pop operations, so that there would be even more of a market for organized crime. However, I am certainly in favour of anything that the government can prove to me would reduce organized crime.
Everyone in the House wants to reduce drug crimes. We should be looking for solutions that actually work rather than solutions that research has shown do not work, and which every single MP through speeches in the House and expert witnesses at committee have shown do not work very effectively. What would work in a lot of cases to reduce this problem?
As I have said before in the House, to a large degree we have had a criminal justice system, a penal system that for 1,000 years has not really worked. People who have been to jail reoffend when they are released. Extending their sentence another day or another year will not make any difference. They will still reoffend when they are released. That is a total failure and it happens far too often. What can we do to stop that?
There were some good examples from experts in the city of Ottawa at restorative justice week a few months ago. Hundreds of enthusiastic people in the city of Ottawa have worked on some of these new restorative justice programs, such as, alternative sentencing, diversion, treatment, group conferencing, family group conferencing, which has been very successful in my riding, and family circles. There are all sorts of different ways when simple incarceration will not work.
The Ottawa police chief is very enthusiastic about finally having an alternative that has a greater degree of success. He suggested at the conference that even these methods I have spoken about fail 30% or 40% of the time. That means 30% or 40% of the time the youth that often go through alternative sentencing, restorative justice, still reoffend. However, had they gone through the regular justice system, had they been incarcerated or their incarceration has been increased, as this bill suggests, they would have reoffended 70% of the time. It is an amazing success story.
What have the Conservatives done with this amazing success story, what was their strategy? In Bill C-23 they tried to reduce the increase in crime. The use of this in a large number of cases would have been an absolute disaster for the country and particularly in my riding. More victims we are trying to protect would have been victimized. When we finally came upon a solution that in a number of cases worked, it was not allowed to continue.
I mentioned earlier today another program in my riding, a positive preventive measure, which is a carving course for aboriginal and other youth. These are very artistic people who either were having trouble getting employment or have substance abuse problems. They have produced some incredible work, some beautiful art.
At one time the operators of the program needed more funding. I hope the government has continued the funding because it has been a success so far. If the government has funded them to continue the program, I give it credit for that. It is the Sundog Carving Centre, a wonderful model that we could try in other places.
Another example I cannot imagine people would not be very supportive of is improving the treatment of prisoners. As I said, what good does it do to put people in jail when they come out and reoffend? Most people who have visited prisons would suggest that there be a wiser investment of money in prisons and in after care for such things as drug treatment, literacy, anger management. The programs are too minimal and are not nearly enough. More could be done to solve the problem than simply building more jails.
I also decry the lack in all the justice strategies of any significant mention of assistance to aboriginal people. There is a much higher rate of incarceration. The aboriginal justice strategy was a success story, way higher than the traditional system of putting people in jail when they just get out and reoffend. The aboriginal justice strategy was having a great success. I have to commend the minister that at the last minute he extended that program. He is a fan of it, so I commend the minister for that but I want him to make that strategy permanent and to do it soon because it is such a successful program.
I have two other items. One is related to harm reduction. I know the government is opposed to this in spite of the evidence of its positive effects. One of the corollary benefits to people coming in and keeping them alive and not passing their disease on to other people, which would add huge costs to the health care system, is they also get directed in the process to other resources that can help them with therapy, direct them to treatment centres when they have decided themselves that they want this help. Those corollary effects show that those are also good investments in the system.
In my last minute I would like to mention the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce which in the last month unveiled a strategy in conjunction with the crime prevention office. It is looking at some innovative ideas to reduce crime in the small business sector. It is looking at education, prevention and other items so that crime does not happen in the first place. Maybe the causes of the crime can be dealt with so that we do not have the unfortunate situation of a person going to jail, not getting any help, maybe learning lessons from other prisoners that should not be learned, and coming out not rehabilitated, not able to face society any better than when the person first went in.
April 15th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.
Judy Sgro York West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-13 today. Again, it is another piece of legislation that I think is important when we look at trying to modernize the justice system in Canada and make various changes. It is also good to have time in our ridings to discuss these issues and get the support of our constituents in advance of being able to speak to them.
Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), will clearly take us in another direction to ensure that our justice system in Canada is as modern as can be. Hopefully, the bill will modernize the system to make it also more efficient and more effective, something that we also hear complaints about in our judicial system. Lawyers, crown attorneys and so on talk about how slow the system is and how there is a need to update a variety of areas in our judicial system.
Some of these amendments make certain processes more effective through greater use of technology and by consolidating and rationalizing existing provisions. The amendments relating to criminal procedure in Canada provide for, among other things, the use of a means of telecommunication to forward warrants for the purpose of endorsement and execution in the jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the search warrant was obtained. This clearly will save time and will be far more efficient. It is a logical step that needed to be taken.
The amendments also provide for changes to the process with respect to the challenge of jurors to, among other things, assist in preserving their impartiality, which again is very important; summary dismissal by a single judge of the court of appeal when an appeal has erroneously been filed with that court; an appeal of a superior court order with respect to things seized lying with the court of appeal; a summary conviction trial with respect to the co-accused that can proceed where one of the co-accused does not appear; and the reclassification of the offence of possession of break and enter instruments into a dual procedure offence to allow the Crown to determine whether this offence should be prosecuted by way of indictment or by the more expeditious procedure of summary conviction, which again could save hours of court time and allow for much faster determinations.
Amendments related to sentencing provide for, among other things: the power to order an offender not to communicate with identified persons while in custody, and the creation of an offence for failing to comply with the order, thereby enhancing protection of victims, which for some time has been called for; clarifications with respect to the application of impaired driving penalties; an increase of the maximum fine that can be imposed for a summary conviction offence from the current $2,000 to $10,000, which is a significant increase and hopefully would work to some degree as a deterrent; the suspension of a conditional sentence order or a probation order during an appeal; and the power to delay sentencing proceedings so that an offender can participate in a provincially approved treatment program.
We often have heard about the lack or insufficient number of treatment programs for people who find themselves with a serious drug problem. There are just not enough programs. There was an article in yesterday's paper and a symposium held yesterday in Toronto which talked about the very issue of there not being sufficient drug treatment programs for many people. That also results in many people are finding themselves in the judicial system.
Further amendments include: in the case of a person serving a youth sentence who receives an adult sentence, to clarify that the remaining portion of the youth sentence is converted to an adult sentence; and the power of a court to order, on application by the Attorney General and after convicting a person of the offence of luring a child by means of a computer system, the forfeiture of things used in relation to that offence.
Clearly this legislation is reflecting the ongoing concerns of Canadians and parliamentarians with regard to many of the things that are going on through the Internet and the luring of young children, an issue that has been discussed at length here in the House. Again, it is all part of the modernization of our justice system's ability to reflect these kinds of things that did not happen many years ago.
Other amendments will allow for better implementation of the language right provisions in the Criminal Code. These amendments will improve the means through which an accused is informed of the right to be heard by a judge or a judge and jury who speak the official language of Canada that is the language of the accused, or both official languages of Canada. The amendments also codify the right of the accused to obtain a translation of the information or indictment on request. Other provisions clarify the application of the language provisions of the Criminal Code in the context of bilingual trials.
Although this bill may not seem as exciting as some that we have been debating lately, I think it is nice to get something that is not charging each and every one of us up but goes on to modernize the system. These justice bills are important. As the responsible Liberal official opposition that we are, we will be supporting this legislation.
The legislation might seem familiar to all the people watching at home. There is good reason for that. This bill was originally introduced as Bill C-23 in the first session of the 39th Parliament. It passed all stages of approval in the House of Commons and had been sent to the Senate, so if anyone thinks this is familiar legislation, clearly it is. It died on the order paper, unfortunately, when the minority Conservative government decided to prorogue the House and start fresh with a Speech from the Throne. This is catch-up time on good legislation.
That Speech from the Throne was another ploy by the government to try to raise its poll numbers, not unusual for the Conservatives, nor was it unusual for other people who had assumed the same role in government, but sadly for them Canadians saw through the strategy and were not fooled. Canadians know how much good work the Liberal government did to protect our cities and our communities and how much progress we made on our justice agenda.
Notable achievements by my government included the creation of a national sex offender registry to protect Canadians from violent sex offenders, and we introduced legislation to restrict the use of conditional sentences for serious and violent offences. We also introduced a package of measures to crack down on violent gun crime and gang violence to assist communities at risk.
Much of that legislation is currently being used in cities across Canada, in particular my city of Toronto, which continues to work on areas of crime prevention, enforcement of the sentences that are there and reaching out to at risk youth and at risk communities. Some of the initiatives included a new $50 million gun violence and gang prevention fund, legislative reform for stricter sentencing for gun crimes, and social investments to prevent those at risk from following a life of crime and to provide them with hope and opportunity for tomorrow.
Canadians know that the Liberal Party continues to be committed to protecting our homes and our rights, as they have always known. It is a priority for us. That is why we have committed to appointing more judges, and it is why we are supporting that legislation, and to putting more police officers on our streets and more prosecutors in the courts, as I mentioned earlier today. We also have worked very hard to toughen laws on Internet luring and identity theft to protect Canada's most vulnerable citizens, including children and seniors.
In his many comments, our leader has also committed to establishing a new fund that will help preserve the safety of ethnic and cultural at risk communities across Canada. This safety being put at risk is something that unfortunately continues to happen more and more in many of our communities across Canada. This fund would, for example, cover the costs of security in their places of worship and gathering places.
I am pleased to support Bill C-13. I encourage my colleagues to do the same. I also encourage my colleagues to exercise their privileges as members to be on the record as speaking out on behalf of their constituents on important pieces of legislation before the House. I am glad to have had the opportunity to get my points of view on the record today. I look forward to questions.
Tackling Violent Crime Legislation
February 11th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE
Mr. Speaker, I have a simple question for the member but I must background it because of the games that the government plays.
On October 26, 2006, the Liberals made the first offer to fast-track a package of justice bills through the House. This offer effectively guaranteed the Conservatives a majority in the House to pass this legislation.
On March 21, 2007, we attempted to use an opposition day motion that if passed would have immediately results in the passage at all stages of four justice bills: Bill C-18, Bill C-22, Bill C-23 and Bill C-35.
Incredibly, the Conservative House leader raised a procedural point of order to block the motion. In other words, the Conservatives fought the Liberal attempt to pass the four Conservative justice bills. Why? They wanted to get to the attacking violent crime bill where they could try to confuse Canadians and try to blame the Liberals that they did not pass them.
Would the member for once withdraw from his fantasyland, be honest in this House and admit to the facts that I just outlined to him?
February 6th, 2008 / 5:05 p.m.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am almost looking forward to the opportunity Bill C-13 gives me to attack the government and the other chamber for their misconduct, if I can put it that way. That is the emotion on one side, which is a positive one in terms of getting my adrenalin flowing.
However, on the other hand, I feel some significant regret because Bill C-13 and its prior incarnation in the form of C-23 is badly needed to be law, not to be deemed played with as a political toy, which both the government and the Senate are doing.
The history of the bill is that it was first brought before the House by the government in 2006. It went to the justice committee where a number of amendments were made that improved the bill. The bill addressed points of issue in a number of areas, particularly our police but also our prosecutors and the judiciary to more efficiently administer our criminal justice system.
A number of these amendments had been needed for quite some time. The Liberal administration, prior to the Conservative one, had allowed a number of these points to go unaddressed, some of which are as old as two decades and needed to be addressed. Requests had been coming from the police, the prosecutors and our judiciary over that period of time looking for these amendments and they just were not addressed.
The Conservatives came forward in their administration, packaged a number of them into one bill and sent them to the justice committee. We made further amendments that improved the bill. We sent it back to the House and it went through the House with all party support. It went to the Senate around the time the government decided, because it did not have enough of an agenda and did not know what it would do when it returned in the fall of 2007, to prorogue Parliament. The end result was that Bill C-23 died on the order paper in the Senate and had to be brought back.
It came back as Bill C-13 in the new House in the fall of 2007. It did not go to the justice committee. We just passed it and sent it over to the Senate because we had already done all the work that we wanted to do on it in the House.
What happened? The Senate decided that it would stick its fingers, as an unelected, non-responsive, I would say, irresponsible body--
February 6th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, the member for Yukon is a stalwart member of the justice committee. He works very hard at ensuring the interests of justice are served. More than that, he does a lot to ensure that his region of this great country is recognized.
After hearing the explanation of the Minister of Finance and him paying all that money to discover that Canada ends at the Rocky Mountains, I want to assure Canadians that Canada goes from east to west. It also goes far north. It goes to the riding of Yukon. The member has expressed many concerns about the aboriginal community.
He is completely right. Bill C-13 was Bill C-23, which could have been law except for, as he says, the ridiculous measures and attitude of the government. The Conservatives was so afraid of a private member's bill that they flushed the drain on all other business, including good business like this. It is sad, cowardly and ridiculous.
Here we are, months later, and the provision that delays the sentencing procedures so an offender can participate in provincially approved treatment programs, which already exist and are in place, should have been put into effect many months ago. The member for Yukon knows that.
The member for Yukon has also addressed language rights with respect to aboriginal peoples. We are evolving as a democracy. We have done fairly well on language rights, despite the actions, the backward, Luddite actions, of the government in cancelling the court challenges program.
We have done pretty well on language rights with respect to bilingualism, meaning French and English. However, what about those minorities in Yukon and in the northern territories and throughout the country?
The Conservatives are supposed to care about western Canada, but there are a lot of aboriginal people who are overrepresented in our justice system, in the sentencing procedures, who may not be served in the language of their mother tongue.
There has been no movement on this because the government does not care about anything but its shrinking 30% or so of the population it serves. The rest of the people in Canada, if they speak another language and the Conservatives do not represent it, they do not matter. If they get any opposition from a wee private member's bill, they will flush all the legislation down the drain to the detriment of the country. They should be ashamed.
February 6th, 2008 / 4:10 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
I may be a rookie here but I remember Bill C-23 very well. We were in favour of the bill but the government decided to dissolve Parliament. So here we are, debating the same bill all over again, except that the number has changed.
The context is fairly important as we start, Bill C-13 is really Bill C-23. It contains so many important new aspects to make our criminal justice system work more equitably and to modernize it. It is why I was proud as a member of the Liberal justice team and as a member of the Liberal justice committee team to approve it and to send it on for eventual approval and royal assent.
Alas, the Prime Minister and his team decided that they were afraid of the environment. Their new Minister of the Environment had failed so miserably to act on the environment that they had to scuttle the whole Parliament because they were afraid of a couple of bills that might change things. In that mess, in that melee unfortunately, this good justice bill was killed and had to be reintroduced again.
One might ask, what difference does it make? It makes a difference to people who care about the criminal justice system. It may not mean a lot to people, but one of the biggest things we could have done in the last two years that I have been here would have been to modernize and make more effectual our criminal justice system, to move the maximum fine to be imposed for any summary conviction offence from $2,000 to $10,000.
A $2,000 fine is within the means of many people, but a $10,000 fine for a serious summary conviction offence, that does not warrant jail time, is a serious fine and might very well have a deterrent effect on those type of crimes for which a fine is appropriate.
There were many other amendments, which could be in effect and the law in the country now, that were just simply thrown away.
Language rights are very important in my province of New Brunswick which is officially a bilingual province. I represent the city of Moncton, which is an officially bilingual city. This is bread and butter for New Brunswick politicians. It is disturbing to me that the parliamentary secretary, when asked why Bill C-23, which contained many provisions to improve the delivery of justice services in both official languages was not given the priority of other bills, turned his answer to Bill C-2 and the tackling violent crime bill.
This love child of the Conservative justice agenda, why was it killed by the Prime Minister? Was he so afraid of other bills which showed the incompetency of his own ministers?
It seems shocking to me. It included: Bill C-10, involving mandatory minimums which was a bill improved upon at committee and which had passed the House; Bill C-22, which modernized issues surrounding the age of consent and the age of protection, and provided for the first time a close in age exemption which made the bill very palatable in protecting young people; Bill C-32, for which Mothers Against Drunk Driving had been clamouring for some time; and, Bill C-35, a reverse onus on bail provisions which in effect codified the existing treatment of the law by jurists in the country, jurists who are exceptional jurists.
I have said this for two years. It seems like I just got here but I am here again defending judges and saying that they were enacting the provisions of Bill C-35 long before we had to make it law. Finally, there was Bill C-27, with respect to dangerous offenders.
Those were all bills that were moved along and would be law now had the government not pulled the plug on its own agenda. It euthanized its own criminal justice program.
In light of the Conservative vote on the capital punishment issue today, it is not surprising that Conservative members believe in terminating things. They have terminated their own hopes and dreams for criminal justice.
However, as I move to what is probably bread and butter for me as a New Brunswick politician, the language of the accused, I want to highlight what the bill will do and what it has done in the past. It is important to note the existing context.
At the request of the accused, a judge will order that the accused be granted a preliminary inquiry, a pre-trial procedure, and trial before a judge without jury, or judge with jury, who speak the official language, one or the other, which may be the language of the accused.
If the accused speaks neither English nor French, a judge will order that the accused be granted a preliminary inquiry or trial, without a judge and jury, who speak the official language of Canada in which the accused can best give testimony. The court is also required to provide interpretation services. That is the existing set of laws.
What Bill C-13 does to improve upon that, in clause 18 of the original bill, is to suggest that once the accused appears in court, the judge is required to advise him or her of the right to trial in the official language of his or her choice, but this requirement, as it exists now, is only if the accused is not represented by counsel.
What Bill C-13 does, which Bill C-23 did and which we all agree on, is take away the issue of representation and says that the judge must advise the accused, whether represented or not, it was a false barrier, to his or her right to have a trial in the language of his or her own choice. That was a good change and it leads me into some of my further debate points when I say that the judge was required to advise the accused of his or her languages rights.
I know the member for Beauséjour is a member of the bar. He is experienced in certain criminal proceedings and would know, coming from a francophone milieu, that it is critically important that the gatekeeper for language rights in that context, the provincial court judge in most instances, has that positive duty to inform a judge of his or her right to a trial in the language of his or her choice. It is important to know that the judge is already doing that.
With respect to preliminary inquiries and the trial in both official languages, clauses 18 and 21 changed it so that they became more accessible. Trials in the proper language of the accused, either French or English, would be improved by this bill.
I might add, as an aside, that the translation of documents would be ameliorated certainly by these amendments and we are all in favour of that.
I guess where the rubber hits the road is what to do with the amendments presented by the Senate. My friend, the parliamentary secretary, discussed at length some of the amendments, and I want to counter on the two on which we might have a more elaborate discussion.
We know that this bill is aimed at modernizing our criminal justice system and making it more effective. That goes without saying. My party had indicated that it would support the passage of this bill when it was first introduced before prorogation. It was the bill that I mentioned earlier, Bill C-23.
In the context of this modernization, it is important that the rights of all Canadians be respected with regard to the use of official languages in court proceedings.
Canadians, particularly those in minority language situations, know they have certain rights under the Criminal Code, but it is the federal government's responsibility, and I suggest our responsibility as lawmakers, to ensure the application of those rights is clear and that the judicial process is not delayed.
The way the government presented its view of language rights in Bill C-13, a justice of the peace or court judge would only be charged with finding some way to ensure that accused persons are informed of their language rights. That is really not enough.
One of the amendments that we proposed should be supported. We are in argument with the government on this, at least according to the parliamentary secretary's speech. It is important to say from the outset that the judge already has a duty to advise the accused of his or her rights. The language says that the judge must ensure that the accused knows of this option.
I have witnessed many first appearances and I am very confident in the ability of our judges to advise accused persons of their rights. It is commonly done throughout the province of New Brunswick and in any federally appointed court system where official languages are important.
The amendment proposed by the Senate would ensure that the federal government takes on its responsibilities through its agents to inform any accused persons of their right to proceed in the official language they understand. The Senate amendment simply takes out any potential middleman in the administration of justice. The judge would inform the accused of his or her rights.
I do not think that it is an undue burden for a judge. If there is clear communication during court proceedings, we are simply providing for clear access to justice for all those involved. It falls in line with our democratic society's pledge to have an expedient judicial process and it takes out the aspect of appeal.
I think the government wants efficacious legislation but I cannot be sure sometimes because some of the legislation it presents is so poorly written and so hastily delivered, only for the purpose of a television spot on the news, it is not always clear. In this case, however, if the government would only support this Senate amendment, it could have efficacious and fair language policy through the Criminal Code.
Sadly, the other Senate amendment respecting the reporting on official language requests is not one that the opposition can support. We cannot agree with it because it would require the Minister of Justice to report on the language of proceeding or testimony in criminal matters across this country.
There can be no way that all attorneys general in all provinces and in all territories would have the means to uniformly report on this. As the parliamentary secretary rightly commented, it is not the minister's mandate. In saying this, I do not mean that the Minister of Justice is not competent. I mean that he is not competent in the law to do such reporting. For that reason, we support the government in its opposition to that Senate amendment.
I understand the Senate's concern with ensuring that there is accountability in respecting language rights but we can surely do a more effective job in ensuring this by using the other resources that are in the community.
I know well-known jurists and hard-working jurists in my own province.
They are Sacha D. Morisset and Christian Michaud, who are both members of the Association des juristes d'expression française du Nouveau-Brunswick. They often highlight the statistics with regard to French language trials in our province. If it can be done in New Brunswick, I am sure it can be done in Canada.
Again, we do not support that Senate amendment.
In short, we are very happy to get moving with this important legislation. We are happy the Senate took the time to improve the bill by suggesting that judges, who are the gatekeepers in our system, have the duty to inform an accused of his or her rights respecting language in this country.
It is bedrock in this community and this country that we offer services in both languages with respect, at least, to the Criminal Code of Canada and the criminal justice system.
On this one amendment from the Senate, I urge members of the government to agree with the Senate and with the Liberal Party and its justice team that it will make the situation with respect to the delivery of language rights in this instance a much better thing.
I am very proud to suggest that we support the bill and one of the amendments suggested by the Senate, which is one of the two that are excluded from the government's list in the final motion.
I want to move the following amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting the words “agrees with Amendments No. 2, 4, 5 and 6” and substituting therefore the words “agrees with Amendments No. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6” and by deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “disagrees with Amendment No. 1”.
February 6th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
Rob Moore Fundy Royal, NB
Mr. Speaker, certainly some of these provisions have been a long time in coming, decades in fact. We need to update and streamline our Criminal Code procedures.
We heard testimony on the old Bill C-23 and now Bill C-13 as to the impact that these changes would have and that they would be a positive impact on our criminal justice system to ensure timely access to the system for all. I believe that is a goal all of us share to ensure an efficient and effective criminal justice system.
The hon. member mentioned the Senate amendments. Yes, the Senate has dealt with this bill and has put forward six amendments. We are opposing two of those amendments as a government and supporting four of them. The hon. member is quite correct. My take certainly and the take of our party is that the Senate has been delaying Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.
In my response to the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, I spoke a bit about what the act would do. I do not know how any member in this House could be opposed to what the tackling violent crime act does. In fact, it has passed this House.
It is necessary legislation to ensure the safety of our communities, the safety of our children, to get impaired drivers off the streets, to ensure that those who commit serious crimes with firearms are behind bars, to ensure that dangerous offenders are in jail rather than out roaming the streets preying on innocent Canadians.
We have handed this legislation off to the Senate. The Senate has not even begun to deal with it until today when the Minister of Justice will be appearing. There is no doubt in my mind there has been tremendous delay. We are urging the Senate to get on with it. We call on the leader of the official opposition to insist that Liberal senators pass the tackling violent crime act.
February 6th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am having some difficulty with the government's position. It has repeatedly, I think as recently as this afternoon in question period, stood in the House and attacked the other place for delaying bills. Certainly, a strong argument could be made that that is exactly what is happening here with the old Bill C-23, now Bill C-13, where the Senate has amended this bill in its chamber and sent it back.
I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary does not see some contradiction in the government's position of accepting some of these amendments now and, at the same time, literally at times screaming at the other house for delay, which is the effect this has.
There are some provisions in this bill that the NDP would have liked to have seen, quite frankly, 20 years ago in terms of some of the amendments. This is a bill that is based on a number of different sections in the code. A number of them would make the enforcement of our laws, the conduct of police as well as our judiciary in our criminal justice system much more efficient. We now are seeing months and months of delay of this law coming into effect because of the amendments that have been sent back to us by the other house.
I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary could comment on the apparent contradiction and also whether he is not exposing this House to seeing the Senate make amendments to Bill C-2, send it back and cause delay on that bill.
February 6th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
Rob Moore Fundy Royal, NB
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe for his question and also for his work on the justice committee.
Quite simply, the tackling violent crime act that the member raised does just what it says. It tackles violent crime. I will touch on the five previous bills that now make up the tackling violent crime act, which is stalled in the Liberal dominated Senate.
We know that the Minister of Justice is appearing now in the Senate. He is calling on the senators. We have been calling on the senators. We have been calling on the Liberal Leader of the Opposition to talk to his Liberal senators and urge them to pass, or at least begin to deal with, what the House has passed.
The tackling violent crime act deals with impaired driving. This is certainly supported by MADD Canada and police organizations. It deals with raising the age of protection. For too long the age of protection in Canada has been embarrassingly low, allowing individuals to come from other countries to exploit 14 and 15 year old Canadians. The tackling violent crime act raises the age of protection.
It also cracks down on dangerous offenders. It makes it possible to ensure that individuals who are truly dangerous offenders are locked up rather than out on the street. It also provides for tougher sentencing and tougher bail provisions for those who would use a firearm in the commission of an offence.
I have to add that it is not good enough to only talk about crime issues and getting tougher on crime during an election. I will remind members that during the last election the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Conservative Party all called for raising the mandatory sentence for those who commit an offence with a firearm. Yet when the Conservative government introduces legislation that does just that, it is delayed and opposed by those other two parties.
I have answered the member's question. The tackling violent crime act deals with those very important provisions that would protect people from violent crime.
The member mentioned consultations. Extensive consultations went into Bill C-23 that deals with language rights and criminal procedures. There were extensive consultations with stakeholders and the provinces, which are tasked with implementing and enforcing criminal law in their respective provinces. Those attorneys general gave us feedback on the bill. In fact, as I mentioned, they are opposed to one of the amendments that came back from the Senate that would require the judge to personally inform the accused of his or her official language rights.