An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

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 June 20, 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

(a) to create an offence of operating a motor vehicle while in possession of a controlled substance as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act;

(b) to authorize specially trained peace officers to conduct tests to determine whether a person is impaired by a drug or a combination of alcohol and a drug;

(c) to authorize the taking of bodily fluids to test for the presence of alcohol or a drug;

(d) to create an offence of operating a motor vehicle with a concentration of alcohol in the blood that exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood and causing bodily harm or death to another person;

(e) to clarify what evidence a person accused of driving with a concentration of alcohol in the blood that exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood can introduce to raise a doubt that they were not committing the offence;

(f) to create an offence of refusing to provide a breath sample when the accused knows or ought to know that the accused’s operation of a motor vehicle caused an accident resulting in bodily harm to another person or death; and

(g) to increase the penalties for impaired driving.

The enactment also makes consequential amendments to other Acts.

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.

February 12th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
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Chris White Vice-President, Public Affairs, Canadian Automobile Association

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

On behalf of the Canadian Automobile Association, thank you for inviting us.

From our establishment in 1913, CAA has been Canada's foremost voice, supporting the rights of Canadian motorists and travellers. With approximately 5.2 million members, CAA continues to advocate for a wide variety of safety initiatives, which have helped guide relevant traffic safety laws, public safety initiatives, and public policies throughout Canada. We continue to work with the federal government, our nine clubs, and other stakeholder groups to ensure safer drivers on safer roads in safer vehicles.

Mr. Chair, as one of Canada's largest member-based advocacy groups, we, like you and the members of the committee, are anxious to see fewer deaths and injuries on the roads as a result of impaired driving. In 1999, this committee tabled the report entitled,Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving. That report concluded that the current level of 0.08 adequately empowered police to remove impaired drivers from the road, while at the same time not burdening the justice system.

More importantly, though, the report stated the following:

...a legal BAC limit of 50 mg/100 ml of blood could result in a loss of public support, especially since scientific evidence suggests that not everyone would be impaired at that level.

Mr. Chair, CAA's only raison d'être on behalf of our members and on behalf of the travelling public is to be a credible advocate for safety issues for Canadians. With this as our sole motivation, CAA continues to support the approach cited in 1999. Based on figures from Transport Canada, we know that nationally 2005 crashes involving drinking and driving accounted for about 33% of all road users killed on public roadways. And until studies show overwhelmingly strong and consistent evidence for lowering the criminal BAC limit, it is our view that the current limit of 0.08 should be maintained and strongly enforced.

To address the growing concern of impaired driving, CAA strongly supports legislation, strict enforcement, and continued education to end the practices of driving while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication. It is our view that this is where an investment of resources is most needed.

The committee's review of mechanisms to reduce impaired driving in Canada is timely and overdue. Current measures are clearly not providing adequate deterrents, nor are they removing dangerous drivers from the road. It is our perspective that we are not talking about a deficiency in law but rather a deficiency in the social behaviour of drivers. Most drivers inherently know when they have consumed too much alcohol to drive, regardless of the blood alcohol content. The more serious problem, though, is the drivers who lack this understanding and those who chronically and consistently get into their cars under the influence of alcohol well beyond the 0.08 levels. Repeat offenders and an underresourced judicial system are endangering the safety of everyone on the roads, and, as CAA has long maintained, driving is a privilege and not a right.

Furthermore, CAA, like many stakeholders, believes in a comprehensive approach to address the problem of impaired driving. We advocate for specific measures to deal with repeat offenders and measures to increase enforcement.

We would specifically like the committee to consider the following:

One, introduce tougher sanctions for recidivists and drivers with high BACs: the higher the blood alcohol level, the more serious the sanction.

Two, implement a mandatory requirement for the use of alcohol ignition interlock devices that become progressively longer with each subsequent conviction.

Three, encourage provinces to coordinate provincial legal drinking ages to reduce the practice of cross-border drinking and driving.

Four, recommend that the Criminal Code admit evidence from mobile digital breath testing devices in court. These devices have proven to be highly reliable compared to the first-generation devices that were initially used.

Five, encourage the federal and provincial governments to simplify the evidence-gathering and charging procedures, with the goal of reducing the paperwork and time needed to lay an impaired driving charge.

Six, and finally, strengthen coordination and increase funding to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the resources and legislative support to effectively detect and properly charge drug-impaired drivers.

The continued level of public concern about drinking and driving is justified by the persistence of the problem on Canadian roads. CAA appreciates the attention of lawmakers to this issue and is confident the implementation of the aforementioned recommendations will improve safety on the roads and highways and will also reduce the incidence of drinking and driving in Canada.

I would like to conclude by thanking the committee for undertaking this important study. In addition, committee members should be commended for their work on Bill C-32 during the last parliamentary session and the speedy passing of the violent crime bill, Bill C-2, last fall.

CAA strongly supports Parliament's efforts to strengthen the enforcement of drug-impaired driving offences in Canada and would persuade the members of this committee to encourage their Senate colleagues to do the same.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Tackling Violent Crime Legislation
Government Orders

February 11th, 2008 / 1:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us look at some of the facts concerning these bills. The age of consent bill, Bill C-22 in the last Parliament, was introduced by the government on June 22, 2006. The government moved second reading on October 30, 2006, and only sent it to committee on March 21, 2007. That bill, which we offered to fast track in October 2006 and which could have been the law in December 2006, only was adopted at third reading in the House on May 4, 2007. The Senate only received that bill on May 8, 2007.

When the member says that all of the bills had gone through the House and were sitting in the Senate, he is being wilfully incompetent or he is being sheerly incompetent by not giving the actual dates. It is the same thing for Bill C-32, Bill C-35, Bill C-10 and C-27.

Tackling Violent Crime Legislation
Government Orders

February 11th, 2008 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to my hon. colleague's comments. The claim about the eight days that the bill has been in front of the Senate is simply a fallacy.

If we take a look at the precursor bills to Bill C-2 in the previous Parliament, those being: Bill C-10; Bill C-22, age of protection; Bill C-27, dangerous offenders; Bill C-32, impaired driving; and Bill C-35, reverse onus on bail for gun offences; four of those five bills had already passed through the House and had spent a significant amount of time in the Senate. The only one that had not was Bill C-27, which had been to committee and had been amended.

We were a very accommodating government, I thought. We basically bundled all of that legislation as it appeared in the previous session of Parliament, with the amendments, put it back in a bill, put it before the House and now it is sitting in the Senate.

We are not asking for anything that is extremely onerous.

My colleague also brought up the fact that she wanted to get her numbers right on something. Well, it is very clear from the information that I see, whether it is on TV or through various polls, that 70% of Canadians support tougher legislation against crime.

Is it sheer incompetence of her leader and her party, or wilful incompetence of her leader and her party, that they cannot get the Senate to pass the legislation?

Tackling Violent Crime Legislation
Government Orders

February 11th, 2008 / 1 p.m.
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Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us look at what some of the witnesses had to say at committee. They came before the committee on Bill C-22, age of consent. They came back for the impaired driving bill, Bill C-32. They came back for the reverse onus on bail hearings for firearm related offences bill. They came back for the dangerous offender bill. They came back for the mandatory minimums bill.

Let us hear what a representative from one of these associations had to said. This was on November 14, 2007, on Bill C-2, in front of the House of Commons legislative committee. It was the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. The representative said that quick fixes and band-aids were no longer sufficient, that a comprehensive national but locally focused strategy was required to really tackle crime and that the legislative priority for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police were guns and gangs, child predators, as two example.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said that because of its legislative priorities, it had asked and pleaded with the Conservative government for modernization of investigative techniques. The association said that the Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act, also called MITA, under the previous Liberal government, died as a result of the election. The association pleaded with the Conservative government to bring it back. It waited all through 2006. The government did not act. It waited again all through 2007. The government did not act.

It is now February 11, and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is still waiting for the government to bring in the legislation for which it has been begging and pleading, that it says it needs in order to deal effectively with violent crime, gun crime, gang crime, sexual predators and child sexual predators. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has asked the government to bring in legislation modernizing investigative techniques for over two years now. What has the government done? What has the government's response been to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association?

First, the response has been not to bring in any legislation on that. Second, the government has refused to fast track my private member's bill that would do exactly this. I offered the government to take it over if it wanted the credit for it. It is more important to get it into the law and to give our law enforcement officers the investigative tools they need in the 21st century when they try to fight crime committed through our cyberspace. The government again, as it did with the Liberal offer to fast track the age of consent and the bail reform bills, as it did with virtually every attempt on the part of the official opposition to make Parliament be effective and efficient and put Canadians and their safety and security of Canadians first, turned its head and ignored the opposition. The government acted as though it heard nothing.

The government, through this motion, is trying to put the blame on the Senate. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada continues to say “the Liberal dominated Senate”. What he does not say is Bill C-2 only went before the Senate on December 12, 2007. Two days later the House adjourned and only came back on Monday, January 28.

Had the government been serious that Bill C-2 and its elements were of such importance to the government, that it was a matter of confidence and that the government was ready to go to an election because Canadians safety and security was of the utmost importance to the government, then why did it not put forth this kind of motion when it sent Bill C-2 to the Senate? The same power and authority and the same rule that allowed the government to put this motion, which it tabled on February 7, before the House to have it debated and then voted on could have been done last fall.

Again, I have to ask if it is sheer incompetence or wilful incompetence on the part of the Conservative government, the Conservative Prime Minister, the Conservative Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Conservative Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and all parliamentary secretaries who sit on the government side.

The Senate received Bill C-2 on December 12, 2007. The government tabled this motion on February 7. This means the Senate had the bill for two days in 2007, December 13 and 14, and then on January 28, January 29, January 30, January 31, February 1, February 4, February 5, February 6, and February 7, for a total of eight days. On the ninth day the government tabled its motion saying that the Senate majority was not providing appropriate priority to the passage of Bill C-2, when the government in fact was obstructing its own legislation.

All of the bills in Bill C-2 would have been law over a year ago and one of them would have been law for close to two years had the government not obstructed its own legislation either through sheer incompetence or through wilful incompetence.

Let me see how good I am at math. One year is 365 days. Two years would be 730 days, not counting the 31 days in January, 2008. If I go to February 7, when the motion was tabled by the government, that is 31 days plus 7, which is 38 days. The Senate has had the bill for literally eight sitting days. The government obstructed its own legislation for 730 days.

Who did not give appropriate priority to the age of consent legislation? It was Conservative members. Who did not give appropriate priority to the impaired driving bill? It was Conservative members. Who did not give appropriate priority to the dangerous offender bill? It was Conservative members.

Who did not give appropriate priority to the bill concerning conditional releases? It was the Conservative government. It was not the opposition. It was not the Bloc Québécois. It was not the NDP. It was not the official opposition. It was not the Liberals or Liberal senators in the upper house. It was the government itself. Imagine that.

Canadians must ask themselves the same question that I have been asking myself for the past two years: Is this Conservative government simply incompetent or wilfully incompetent? When one looks closely at the facts concerning all these justice related bills, when one looks closely at the actions and decisions that this Conservative government has taken, or has failed to take, one can only conclude that it is either simply incompetent or wilfully incompetent.

In closing, I would like to thank the members of this House for their attention. I would be happy to answer any questions they may have. If I do not have the answer, I will be frank. I will say so and try to address the issue with that member outside the House.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

November 28th, 2007 / 3:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this House on a subject to which I have devoted most of my professional career. When I left university, I became a crown attorney, first at the provincial level, then at the federal level. Then I became a defence attorney. I was even the president of the Association des avocats de la défense. I was the Bâtonnier of the province of Quebec, and then minister of justice and minister of public safety. As you can see, I have long thought about crime in general and effective ways to fight it. I have also thought about the bogus solutions that are sometimes proposed and that have produced disastrous results in neighbouring countries. I would not want this country to follow in its neighbour's footsteps only to end up with the same results.

From the outset, I would say that I think we all share the same goal, and that is to fight crime. Where we differ is in how to go about it. I give my opponents credit and they should give me credit as well, especially since my past has shown that, in situations where I really had power, I could fight crime effectively. Our major victory over the Hells Angels in Quebec is a very clear example of that.

Nevertheless, I often heard from the other side that we were filibustering on Bill C-2. I do not know whether the people who said that know what a filibuster is. In French, the word is “filibusterie”. The word “filibuster” comes from the French word “filibustier”. This tactic was first used in the U.S. senate by an elderly senator who had serious objections to a bill. At the time, there was no limit on speaking time, as there is now in all legislatures, thanks in part to him. To express his disagreement with the bill, he decided to speak without stopping. He even took the Bible and read long excerpts from it, and he kept on speaking.

Today, we have measures to prevent filibusters and systematic obstruction. We have a set amount of time to present our arguments. Filibustering means using every possible procedural means to prolong a debate.

Bill C-2 groups together five bills that were introduced during the previous session, including the bill on bail. The motion at third reading was adopted unanimously, without a vote, on June 5, 2007. I therefore do not see how we could have delayed that part of Bill C-2.

Bill C-32 on impaired driving died on the order paper, even before the report stage. Once again, I do not see how anyone could accuse us of filibustering.

Bill C-27 on dangerous offenders also died on the order paper, in committee. What does it mean when a bill dies on the order paper? It means that ordinarily we should have resumed the deliberations that were interrupted in late spring, but the session was prorogued. The government prorogued it. It was the government that aborted the process these bills had to go through before becoming law. As a result, these bills could not be discussed any further.

The same is true of Bill C-22. Even worse, this bill had been adopted at third reading. Once again, it had received unanimous approval.

We voted in favour of these four bills. Where, then, is the filibustering, this tactic where members try to prolong the debate so that a bill they disagree with goes nowhere?

One major bill remains, Bill C-10, which provides for minimum sentences for offences involving firearms.

We were against it for a number of reasons, but the bill was passed at third reading on May 29, 2007.

The government decided to group these five bills together for one reason: none of the bills elicited systematic opposition. Knowing that we have some objections to Bill C-10, which I will discuss shortly, the government is trying to say that if we vote against Bill C-2 because we are against this part, we are also against all of the other parts.

This argument keeps coming up in this House, and I do not think it is well founded. I cannot understand why all of the parties keep using this argument. I myself have never used it and probably never will. However, when we vote in favour of blocks of legislation—such as the throne speech, which contains numerous measures—that means we support some measures, but are against others.

We weigh the measures we support against those we oppose. We explain why we vote as we do. For a throne speech, when the negatives outweigh the positives, we vote against it even though we support some of the measures it contains. It is utterly unfair to say that since we voted against a group of measures, we must oppose all of the measures in that group.

The same goes for the budget when they criticize us for voting against measures that we actually want to see in place. We voted against the budget because the cons, the measures we did not support, outweighed the pros. The same applies when we vote for a budget, which does not necessarily mean that we support every single measure in it.

The argument is a faulty one, but the government has come to rely on this tactic to influence public opinion during the coming election, an election that the government seems to want as soon as possible. For example, they will say that we are against changing the age of consent, even though the bill passed unanimously, and so on.

Let us get to the heart of the matter: minimum penalties. We have some objections in principle to minimum penalties. Based on my personal experience, I believe that minimum penalties do not influence crime rates. I think many people who have long been studying crime would agree with me.

First, I think that no member in this House would be able to tell me how many minimum penalties there are in the Criminal Code. People do not know the minimum penalties. In Canada, the most glaring example is marijuana. I passed the Bar exam in 1966. I started working as a crown attorney at the provincial level, and that was the first time I heard talk of marijuana. There was not much at the time. Throughout university, I do not remember hearing about anyone smoking pot. I did not even know that expression, and I was obviously not the only one.

I then became a crown attorney at the federal level and I started to work on cases related to these issues. Let us talk about marijuana and hashish from Indian hemp. The Indian hemp growing here had no hallucinogenic properties. So at the time, all marijuana, hashish and Indian hemp that people have been smoking since the late 1960s to the present day came from somewhere else.

Does anyone know what the minimum penalty was for importing marijuana into Canada? I am sure that people do not know, just like people at the time did not. The minimum penalty was seven years in prison for importing marijuana. It is one of the harshest sentences in the Criminal Code. But it was while we had that minimum penalty that marijuana use started growing, reaching peaks in the 1980s.

Since that time, levels of marijuana use have remained very high. We can clearly see that minimum sentences had little effect. The problem is that people do not know what the minimum sentences are.

On the other hand, we have an example of success, but it still needs to be taken a little further. I am referring to impaired driving. The minimum sentences have not been increased, but we have seen awareness campaigns and increased education. People know that it is a crime to drive while impaired. I remember when I finished my studies and I was buying my first car, no one talked about it. Our attitude was to consider if the person was capable of driving and we did not really see it as a criminal act. This is no longer the case.

The public has become much more aware and we have seen a decrease in impaired driving charges. In fact, they have decreased significantly. When authorities began conducting the first tests on our roads to see if people were driving while impaired, it was not uncommon to stop about 10% of drivers. When road tests are done today, with the same sample chosen in the same manner, less than 1% of drivers are found to be impaired. People have become more aware. I think of my children who drive and who, when they go to parties, have a designated driver, everyone taking their turn. These are habits they have learned without the fear of prison.

Thus, as we can see, the simple fear of a sentence does not have an impact. Plus, people do not know what the minimum sentences are. We must know a little about how the criminal mind works. I practised criminal law long enough to know a little about the subject. Does anyone really believe that criminals think seriously about the sentence they might have to serve if they are caught? First of all, most crimes are committed on impulse. What people want to avoid and what prevents them from committing crime is not the penalty, but rather the fear of getting caught. If there is a good chance they will be caught, people change their behaviour.

I also had another experience in my personal and professional life. When I began practising law in Montreal, it seemed to be the capital of armed robbery. Some of those listening may remember the famous movie called Monica la mitraille. It was a very good movie. I do not remember her real name, but I did see her in court. She was the leader of one of the groups who committed armed robberies in Montreal. There was about one a day at the time.

Does anyone remember the last armed bank robbery committed last year? I am convinced that almost no one does. Is it because thieves are now more afraid of the sentence than back when it was harsher? Why did they do it? Why has the number of these robberies decreased considerably? It is because of intelligent preventive measures. Banks are built differently and there is no longer access to large amounts of money. The risk of being caught in relation to the anticipated profits is not worth it. Furthermore, all kinds of measures have been put in place in banks and the efforts of bankers has also decreased the menace of armed bank robberies.

Putting in place a series of measures resulted in a true decrease in crime. Fear does not stop people from committing crimes.

The third example I can give is the death penalty. We abolished the death penalty in Canada 25 years ago. Since then the number of homicides has declined steadily rather than increasing.

I am not saying that we should not have sentences. We must have sentences and for certain crimes in certain circumstances they must be severe. However, the use of minimum sentences does not work.

I have another philosophical problem with minimum sentences and it is worth talking about. A judge hears a case and arguments, then weighs all the factors that need to be taken into consideration when handing down a sentence, such as individual and general deterrents, the seriousness of the charge, the seriousness of the crime, the circumstances under which the accused committed the crime, his involvement in the crime, recidivism if any, his home life, his responsibility or the influence others may have had, and so forth.

Implementing minimum sentences forces a judge, who went over all these circumstances in his heart and soul, to conclude that, even though that person should get 18 months in jail, the minimum sentence is 3 years. He is required by law, in that case, to commit an injustice. I have heard judges say that when they hand down minimum sentences.

We often forget that when we want to impose minimum sentences we are thinking about the worst offenders. When I listen to the examples given by the members opposite who defend this bill, I know full well they are thinking about the worst cases. We have to realize that minimum sentences do not apply just to the worst cases, but also to less serious cases.

I will give an example that I witnessed in my career. This will show that, although the members opposite claim that seven-year minimum sentences are not being handed out, a number of people have, at one point, served seven years in prison for importing marijuana.

I remember a young woman whose capacities were diminished after an accident. She had a daughter and her husband had left her. She met a charming, smooth talking American fellow with an education, like her, and she fell for him. He was willing to live with her handicap. He was very attentive towards her. They were in love. He seemed to have a income, without being very wealthy. One day, he left, saying that he would be sending her parcels. It was not immediately clear to her what he was talking about. Parcels did start arriving. Based on telephone conversations between them, it is obvious that she suspected that the parcels contained something illegal, because he asked that she not open them. She did not import anything. She simply stored parcels in her home. But because she suspected that there was something illegal going on, under the doctrine of wilful blindness, she was undoubtedly guilty, like him, of importing narcotics.

I wonder what sentences my colleagues in the House would hand down to that man and that woman respectively. Does it not seem profoundly unfair that the same sentence be imposed on both of them just because the minimum sentence prescribed is seven years? Since the offence involved relatively small amounts of hashish, the least dangerous drug, he may not have deserved a seven year sentence and she certainly did not. This goes to show how minimum sentences result in unfair situations. Different situations have to be considered.

In addition, the examples of cases raised in the House often appeared very serious, based on the two or three reasons for which the judge imposed such sentences. I doubt, however, that this was the case. The judge probably cited 10 reasons or so, which are not listed, for coming to the decision which is described to us as unacceptable. It is entirely possible that a few of the thousands of sentences rendered every day in Canada seem too heavy handed. In the case of a truly unacceptable sentence, the potential remedy would not come from Parliament, as is suggested by our discussions, but from the appeal courts.

In none of the arguments put forward in support of increasing sentences was an unreasonable decision by an appeal court ever mentioned.

Finally, the most important thing to know concerning firearms: in the United States, they incarcerate seven times as many people as we do, and guns roam freely, so to speak. As a result, three times—

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

November 27th, 2007 / 1:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to take part in this third reading stage of Bill C-2. I would like, perhaps, to correct a number of perceptions that the government has done nothing to discourage in recent days concerning the work of the opposition.

First, we know that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-2. In fact, if my information is correct, I believe that our support is unanimous. I do not imagine that any of our colleagues will be defecting. However, we know that friendship is a fragile thing that we must always work to preserve.

I said that the Bloc Québécois supported Bill C-2. Any kind of offence could make even a man over 40 wish for young offender status.

In a more serious vein, we were presented with a number of bills. Of 12 bills that the government introduced since coming into office, six received royal assent, four made their way to the Senate and the remaining two were to be examined in committee. Naturally we had reservations about the dangerous offenders’ bill, which is a serious bill and I will come back to it. We still have those reservations. There was also Bill C-32 on impaired driving.

When the government suggests that the opposition did not work diligently, some explanation is in order. When a party has been in government for two years—not quite two years even—and you have succeeded in obtaining royal assent for six bills, when half of your legislative agenda has been adopted, I think the government’s criticism is not well founded. The Bloc Québécois has worked very hard in the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Committee on Public Safety and National Security. We will continue to work hard in the future.

I know that the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue will be speaking about this in a few minutes, but there is a problem of philosophy. For a democrat—let me put it the way René Lévesque did—the end cannot justify the means. Even if we know that judicial practice in our courts should be changed, my colleague for Abitibi—Témiscamingue will agree with me that when a person is held in detention before trial, for example, and they want to subtract two days from any sentence for each day in detention, there is perhaps something that we need to look at.

If the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin were with us today, he would join with me in recognizing that the government should have made tackling the parole system a priority. This is an area where the support of the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue is very firm, very strong, and not negotiable. You can be sure that I take comfort in this.

So I was talking about the question of sentencing, about release after one-sixth of the sentence. If a judge in a court of law, with defence counsel, Crown counsel and a jury as provided under the Criminal Code, has imposed a sentence, it seems that allowing the accused to be released after one-sixth of the sentence is very soon. There are philosophical questions that concern us, that cry out for answers. We are not prepared to accept everything in Bill C-2.

Generally speaking, I think we must remember that crime is dropping. There was an increase in crime in the 1960s and 1970s, both property crime and crimes against the person. This continued until the 1990s, with small variations. After that, crime has fallen. There have been peaks, for example in 1994, 1995 and 1996, when we had the whole phenomenon of organized crime. Some of my colleagues may recall this.

In fact, I owe this to history. To be truthful, I must point out that the Bloc Québécois was the first to call for anti-gang legislation. I recall very clearly having discussions with senior officials who wanted to dismantle the organized crime rings. At that point, there were 38 criminal biker gangs known to law enforcement agencies. The main one was the Hell’s Angels. The obvious face of organized crime in our communities was the Hell’s Angels.

Some senior officials wanted to dismantle the organized crime rings using the conspiracy provisions. The member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue will recall that this was section 476 of the Criminal Code, if memory serves me.

Obviously, in the Bloc Québécois, we were convinced that this was not possible. Why? Take the example of Maurice “Mom” Boucher. While he gave the orders, he was not the one who carried them out. There was a gap in the chain of command that meant that it was extremely difficult to lay charges against the organized crime kingpins, even though the people responsible for surveillance techniques, even though the law enforcement agencies, the Montreal police service, the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada and the RCMP, were able to identify who the kingpins of those criminal organizations were.

It was the Bloc Québécois, through the wisdom it has always had—wisdom that is perhaps not innate, because it took a lot of work to gain it—speaking in the voice you are listening to now, that took action to deal with this. The member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles also worked very hard on it, as did the member for Berthier—Montcalm. I think I can bring back fond memories in this House if I mention the name of Michel Bellehumeur. He was appointed to the bench because of his personal talent and his intellectual breadth. The member for Berthier—Montcalm had all the qualifications needed to be appointed to the bench, and today he is a judge of the Court of Québec, Criminal Division.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

November 27th, 2007 / 1:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. I hope he will listen to me very carefully as well.

I have a problem with the bill. Yes, the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill. Nonetheless, two things bother me about it. Will the government address them?

My first point is this. Does the government realize that it is not by passing tougher laws with minimum sentences that we are going to reduce crime? Does the government realize that getting out of prison, not going to prison, is the problem? Convicts do not serve their entire sentence. That is the problem. Does this government realize that? Is this heading anywhere?

Since I do not have enough time to ask another question, I will go on to my second point, on former Bill C-32. The parliamentary secretary knows that I sat on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. As a criminal lawyer, I have one question: do we have the tools? In fact, does the department have the tools? Do the police have the tools to detect whether drivers are impaired by drugs? That is the problem with former bill C-32. Now, it is being lumped into Bill C-2. What is going to be done? Is there anything planned? Has anything been implemented or do we have to adopt the bill to see what happens?

I will close by saying that my primary concern is whether this government understands that getting out of prison, not going to prison, is the problem. Criminals are released too quickly. That is what people are complaining about.

Motions in amendment
Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

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

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the truth can be stretched, the Conservatives stretch it as much as possible.

Why was there a need to combine all of the bills? Those bills themselves were complex in nature. If the member wants to blame the Senate, in almost every case the Senate dealt with the bills faster than this House did. Of the six justice bills that were not passed before the summer break, only four had even reached the Senate. The two bills that were in the Senate were Bill C-27 and Bill C-32. Of the four bills that were in the Senate, they had all only been sent in May or later.

Let us have some fairness and some truth.

Motions in amendment
Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

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

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Government Orders

November 26th, 2007 / 12:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the bill that amends the Criminal Code and makes consequential amendments to other acts. As you know, I come from a region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, where the crime rate is very low. Still, I want to take part in today's debate to raise an issue that is a major source of concern for people in my region and in my riding.

It goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois worked actively and positively in committee to improve some of the provisions of Bill C-2. Incidentally, I want to congratulate in particular the hon. member for Hochelaga, who did a great job at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and also the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, for her contribution.

Based on what we heard from a large number of witnesses, it is obvious that many Quebeckers and Canadians want some changes to the current justice model.

The committee's consultation process and the message conveyed by our fellow citizens showed two things. First, a large part of the population is concerned about the current justice system and, second, it does not want an American type of justice system.

We believe that the American justice system has produced disastrous results. The Bloc Québécois deemed appropriate to propose a series of amendments to Bill C-2. Unfortunately, the Conservative government kept none of the six amendments that we proposed, even though some of them enjoyed the unanimous support of the public security ministers in Quebec and in the provinces. It is unfortunate that the Conservative government does not take into consideration the fact that this is a minority government.

I would like to briefly mention the six amendments that reflect Quebeckers' values. In my region, the Minister of Labour, who represents the riding next to mine, said that Bill C-2 reflects the public's will. The Minister of Labour should have said, rather, that Bill C-2 reflects the ideology of the minority Conservative government. That is what he should have said first and foremost.

The Bloc suggested, therefore, that parole after one-sixth of the sentence has been served should be abolished. We should also put an end to virtually automatic statutory release after an inmate has served two-thirds of his sentence. The Bloc proposed another amendment as well to the effect that there should be a formal evaluation by a professional of an inmate’s overall risk of re-offending.

In addition, the Bloc suggested that onus of proof should be reversed in the case of criminals found guilty of the offences of loan-sharking, procuring, robbery, fraud over $5,000 and counterfeiting in order to facilitate the seizure of assets that are the product of crime.

We also said that the police needed better tools to deal with the problem of street gangs, especially longer warrants for investigations carried out by means of tailing with a GPS.

It should be against the law to wear any symbol, sign or other mark identifying the wearer as a member of a criminal organization that has been recognized as such by the courts.

Finally, we should eliminate the rule that the time spent in pretrial detention counts double when sentences are determined. Sentences should be deemed to have started on the first day of detention, rather than when sentences are passed.

The minister labour thinks that Canadians want new justice legislation. I agree with him to the extent that the Bloc supports the principle of these changes. This does not mean, however, that Quebeckers and Canadians agree with everything in Bill C-2. When bills are introduced, some changes can be made without changing them completely. We need to adapt to the realities of life in Quebec and Canada.

As I said, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-2 in principle and takes crime very seriously. However, when five bills are amalgamated into one, it is only to be expected that some doubts will arise. The Conservative minority government has a duty not to play partisan politics with an issue as important as the justice system.

The Bloc Québécois believes that what really needs to be attacked first and foremost are poverty, inequality and exclusion. They aggravate the frustrations and crime in our communities if not dealt with by the government on a priority basis.

The Bloc Québécois knows very well that many changes must be made to the current justice system and that some adjustments to the Criminal Code are essential. The government has a duty to take action and use the tools at its disposal to enable Quebeckers and Canadians to live safely and peacefully.

The measures introduced must have a positive impact on crime. They must be more than rhetoric or a campaign based on fear. We must avoid copying the American model, which yielded much less positive results than anticipated.

Crime has been steadily decreasing in Quebec, as it has in Canada for the last 15 or so years. Statistics Canada recent stated that in 2006, the overall crime rate in this country hit its lowest in 25 years. Quebec had its lowest homicide rate since 1962.

Unfortunately, there will always be crime in our society. We can never fully eradicate all crime. But statistics show that the current approach should not be discarded in favour of the US model. This means that we must look for improvements while keeping an open mind about the realities facing Quebeckers and Canadians.

In the past, Quebeckers have relied on individualized justice based on a judicial process that is flexible and suited to each case, with positive results. The homicide rate in Quebec is one of the lowest in Canada and is four times lower than in the United States.

Bill C-2 brings together old bills that we largely supported, such as Bill C-10, Bill C-22, Bill C-27, Bill C-32 and Bill C-35.

Justice is an important issue, and this model must truly correspond to the realities facing Quebec and Canada.

In conclusion, I would like to say that Quebeckers and my constituents from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord do not want a justice system based on the U.S. system.

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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.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

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?

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

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

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.