Evidence of meeting #12 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was debate.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

We would be prepared to suspend at one o'clock for 20 minutes.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

For 20 minutes?

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Chair, I'm one of the speakers on the list and I have absolutely no problem with the suggestion from Mr. Harris.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Did you have another speaker on the list there now?

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Casey, are you still on the list, or do you want your name off the list?

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

I'm still on the list, but if it is the will of the committee to suspend until 3:30, I'm quite prepared to speak at 3:30.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Madame Borg.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

I think I'm also on the list. If it's the will of the committee to come back at 3:30 p.m., I can wait too.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

I don't sense that there's a will of the committee to suspend until 3:30.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

I'll defer to the next speaker, Mr. Chair, to allow some discussion to take place.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Casey, you are now next.

November 17th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'm sitting in for Professor Irwin Cotler, and while I'm sitting in his chair I won't pretend for one second that I am able to fill his shoes.

Thank you for allowing me to be here to speak to this motion. I bring 17 years of the practice of law in Prince Edward Island. The firm I was with, Stewart McKelvey, did all of the narcotics prosecutions for the Queens County area of Prince Edward Island. In the early part of my legal career I did some prosecutions, as well as a limited number of criminal defence cases. In a small community you generally take what comes in the door until you develop a bit of expertise in another area. That's what I bring to the debate.

I understand that what is under debate here today is a procedural matter that has been brought forward by the government members to limit the amount of time committee members are allowed to consider the clause-by-clause of this massive bill. I share the concerns of my colleague Mr. Harris, and I understand that Mr. Cotler has also spoken to this.

It strikes me that a bill as complex as this, with the ramifications it will have on our society, on our aboriginal community, and on the coffers of our provincial governments--I would suggest on our very fabric as a nation--is one that really shouldn't be jammed through.

My time at the bar of Prince Edward Island has told me that any time you get into any sort of a detailed analysis of any clause of any statute—if you have three lawyers, you have four opinions. To suggest that a piece of legislation with the ramifications this one has for our society can be done justice in a five-minute analysis is implausible. So I join Mr. Harris and Mr. Cotler in their opposition to this motion.

I had an occasion in the last month to meet with the representatives of the crown counsel association of Canada. There are actually parts of the bill that they like, but there are parts that cause them grave concern. They told me there seems to be lots of money for the police and the prisons, but in between we have a system that's stressed to the breaking point.

If that's the state of the justice system in Canada now and we are bringing in a piece of legislation...it appears that we're on a fast train to bringing in a piece of legislation that will further burden the justice system between the police and the prisons, and I would suggest in the prisons as well. It's absolutely irresponsible of us as legislators not to give this its due.

With regard to the concerns raised by the prosecutors in this country, it strikes me that it's better to go slow and get it right. We owe that to our constituents and the people involved in the justice system.

This in an enormously complex and lengthy piece of legislation. It amends nine acts. It has over 150 clauses. The examination of each clause in isolation requires discussion and requires one to think about how that clause affects others. Five minutes simply doesn't do it.

You've heard, and we've heard in debate on this bill, that we are experiencing a declining crime rate. Yet, in the face of that declining crime rate, we seem to be in a great rush to jam through tough-on-crime legislation. If ever there was a time to take it slow and ask all the questions, to understand all of the nuances, to look at how clauses relate one to the other, and to look at the impact that each clause will have on our aboriginal communities, the justice system, and on the vulnerable members of our society, that time is now. It strikes me that this is the type of legislation that ought to command our closest attention.

There has been plenty of debate on the legislation in predecessor parliaments and predecessor bills. That's a justification for the fact that the Conservative majority wants to impose a five-minute limit on each clause. Well, I am one of the rookies. I am one half of the Liberal class of 2011 right here. I have an interest in this. My constituents have an interest in this. My professional colleagues have an interest in this. I want to fully participate. I think I'm entitled to, and I think they are entitled to have me do so. I speak to you from the perspective of a rookie. To my mind, it's unfair. It's not right. They deserve better, and I deserve better. This is a complex, involved, impactful, expensive piece of legislation and we have to give it its due. With the greatest of respect, you owe new parliamentarians like me that courtesy. I owe that respect to my constituents and to my professional colleagues. That's why I'm here. I would hope and expect that the partisan blinders would come off long enough for everyone to appreciate that.

I've received some correspondence in the last few days from some of my professional colleagues back in Prince Edward Island who are involved with the Canadian Bar Association. As you must be abundantly aware, the Canadian Bar Association has some serious concerns about this legislation. I expect that we have many people in the room who are members of the Canadian Bar Association—they represent over 37,000 lawyers. These are people who work with the law every single day.

They have concerns with the pace being set here. They have umpteen concerns. The document that was sent to me most recently has ten reasons to oppose Bill C-10. It strikes me, and I know we have members of the legal bar in the room on both sides of the table, how do you face your colleagues and say we're shutting down debate on this?

Your colleagues, the people you worked with, the people you spent time with in the courtroom or in the boardroom or in your law firms, have concerns. They want those concerns aired. To jam this through...well, I ask the question: when you go back to your ridings, when you go back to Fort McMurray and the other areas in which you practise, can you look your colleagues in the eye and say to them--

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

I can.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

--yes, we've overhauled the criminal justice system and we got her done within 100 days, and we made darned sure that when we went through the thing clause by clause, nobody had a chance to talk about it for more than five minutes? Is that a source of pride?

This bill will result in new prisons, mandatory incarcerations for minor, non-violent offenders. It will justify the poor treatment of inmates. It will repeat an experience that has been shown to have failed in Texas and California. Pretty big stuff.

New prisons are going to be a significant demand on our coffers. But what I'm concerned about more than the new federal prisons is the impact on an already overstressed provincial system. Given that we haven't seen price tags--we haven't seen a price tag for how this is going to affect the provincial penal system--I know myself, in my little province of Prince Edward Island, and I fully expect that it's much more pronounced in yours, that the provincial government, the prosecutors who try these cases, are concerned about the impact of this bill. You need, I need, we as legislators need, time to hear from them. We need time to weigh their advice. We need time to incorporate it into whatever sensible changes there should be. We're cheating ourselves of that opportunity by putting this through at the pace you want.

If we really want to address criminal behaviour in this country, if we really want to do what you profess to want to do, which is to put victims first, we need to be addressing child poverty, we need to be providing services for the mentally ill, we need to be diverting young offenders from the adult—

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Casey, I think we need to stay on the topic of the motion.