Evidence of meeting #4 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 offences.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Seeing quorum, I note the clock is at 8:45. We'll begin meeting number four of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

We are meeting today pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, September 28, 2011, to discuss Bill C-10, an act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and other acts.

Appearing today is the Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice, and the Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, along with their officials.

Ministers, the agreed process today is that each of you will be given five minutes for an opening address. Then we'll go to questions from the panel.

October 6th, 2011 / 8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Honourable Rob Nicholson Rob Nicholson

Thank you very much. I'm pleased to be here with Catherine Kane, from the Department of Justice, who I think you know very well from all the different pieces of legislation we've had.

I'm pleased to address the members of the committee, as they begin their review of Bill C-10, Safe Streets and Communities Act.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act fulfills our government's commitment to quickly reintroduce legislation to combat crime and stand up for victims and law-abiding Canadians. As you know, Canadians gave us a strong mandate to bring forward measures that will better protect society and ensure criminals are held accountable for their actions.

Bill C-10 combines nine bills that were not passed in the previous Parliament. All of them have been debated in the House of Commons and/or the Senate.

I am pleased today to be joined by my colleague, the Honourable Vic Toews, the Minister of Safety, to outline the important measures contained in this bill. I will speak to parts 2 and 4 of the bill. Minister Toews will speak to parts 1 and 3 of the bill.

As I previously stated, while the text of Bill C-10 is certainly longer than most, the fact remains that these reforms have been debated, studied, and in some cases passed by at least one chamber. I encourage all members of the committee to consult the parliamentary record that exists for all of the previous bills.

I'll take a few moments to highlight a number of the measures.

Part 2 of the Safe Streets and Communities Act includes former Bill S-10, the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act. As you may know, it proposes to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to impose mandatory penalties for the offences of production, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting, or possession for the purpose of exporting a schedule I drug, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, and schedule II drugs such as marijuana.

As you may be aware, this is the fourth time the bill has been introduced. They've been passed by both chambers, but obviously never by both in the same session. This bill is in exactly the same form it was in at the dissolution of the last Parliament.

Part 2 also includes reforms previously proposed by the former Bill C-16, the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act. The reforms would explicitly state that a conditional sentence is never available for offences punishable by a maximum of 14 years or life; offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years that result in bodily harm, involve the import and/or export, trafficking, and production of drugs, or involve the use of a weapon; or the listed property and violent offences punishable by 10 years and prosecuted by indictment, such as criminal harassment, trafficking in persons, and theft over $5,000.

This is the third time these reforms have been introduced by our government. On each prior occasion, they received second reading approval in principle and scope.

I note there have been a few technical changes made to the list of excluded offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years. These include changes to include the recently enacted new offence of motor vehicle theft and to coordinate the proposed imposition of a mandatory sentence of imprisonment in section 172.1, the luring of a child, with the conditional sentences amendments.

The last component of part 2 is on the reforms previously proposed by Bill C-54, Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act. These reforms seek to consistently and adequately condemn all forms of child sexual abuse through the imposition of new and higher mandatory penalties. They also seek to prevent the commission of sexual offences against children through the creation of two new offences. We also seek to require the courts to consider imposing conditions to prevent suspected or convicted child sex offenders from engaging in conduct that could facilitate or further a sexual offence against a child.

Bill C-54 had been passed by the House of Commons with all-party support. It was at debate on third reading in the Senate when the opposition parties unfortunately decided to force an election. I was very disappointed that this important bill then died on the order paper.

We've made some changes since that time, as you will see, to increase maximum penalties with a corresponding increase in mandatory minimum sentences to better reflect the nature of the offences, including making or distributing child pornography or a parent or guardian procuring his or her child for unlawful sexual activity.

These changes are consistent with the government's objectives for the former Bill C-54. As well, the two new sexual offences proposed by this part would be added to schedule 1 of the Criminal Records Act to ensure that persons convicted of either offence are subject to the same period of ineligibility for a record suspension, currently referred to as a pardon, as they are for other child sexual offences.

Finally, part IV of the bill proposes to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to strengthen the way the system deals with violent and repeat young offenders.

These measures include highlighting protection of the public as a principle, making it easier to detain youth charged with serious offences pending trial, ensuring that prosecutors consider seeking adult sentences for the most serious offences, requiring police to keep records of extra judicial measures, and requiring courts to lift the publication ban on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences when a youth sentence is given. These reforms were previously proposed in Bill C-4 , Sebastien's Law.

The former Bill C-4 was extensively studied by the House of Commons standing committee through 16 meetings at the dissolution of the previous Parliament. The bill includes changes to address concerns that have been highlighted by the provinces regarding pretrial adult sentencing and deferred custody provisions in the bill. For example, changes to the pretrial detention provisions respond to the provinces' request for more flexibility to detain youth who are spiralling out of control and pose a risk to the public--by committing a serious offence if released--even if they have not been charged initially with a serious offence. The test for pretrial detention would now be self-contained in the act, without requiring reference to the Criminal Code, which is currently the case.

Other technical changes include removing the proposed test for adult sentences and deferred custody and supervision orders and returning to the current law's approach. For example, the former bill referred to the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which some provinces found more difficult to meet. That has been removed. The bill continues the current approach of leaving it up to the courts to determine the appropriate standard of proof.

Under Bill C-10, deferred custody and supervision orders will not be available if the youth has been found guilty of an offence involving or attempting to cause serious bodily harm.

In closing, most of Bill C-10's reforms have been debated and studied, and some have even passed. The few new elements I've outlined are consistent with the objectives of the former bills, as originally introduced, or make some needed technical changes. I urge the committee to work with the government to support the timely enactment of the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

We are taking action to protect families, stand up for victims, and hold individuals accountable. Canadians can count on our government's commitment to fulfill its promise to pass this comprehensive bill within the first 100 sitting days of this Parliament.

Thank you very much.

I would ask Minister Toews now to deliver his remarks.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Honourable Vic Toews Vic Toews

Thank you, Minister Nicholson.

Mr. Chairman, honourable members of the committee, I would like to thank you for the invitation to be here and for the opportunity to speak with you on Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

With me is Mary Campbell of the department.

Today I would like to focus my opening remarks on components of the legislation that pertain to the public safety portfolio. These provisions will eliminate pardons for serious crimes, increase offender accountability, support victims of crime, provide justice for victims of terrorism, and ensure that public safety is the paramount consideration when considering offenders' requests for an international transfer.

Last year our government passed legislation to initiate reforms to the pardons system, and Bill C-10 contains further measures to eliminate pardons for serious crimes, including sexual offences against minors.

Bill C-10 will also replace the word "pardon" with the more appropriate term "record suspension". It further stipulates that an individual convicted of more than three indictable offences who has received a sentence of two or more years for each will be ineligible for a "record suspension."

These reforms to the pardons system will also apply to the equivalent service offences under the National Defence Act.

Bill C-10 would also enshrine in law a victim's right to attend and make statements at parole hearings. In addition, it would enable victims to request additional information about the offender, including the reason for the offender's transfer or temporary absence and the offender's participation in program activities.

This bill proposes that when offenders withdraw 14 days or less before the date of a hearing, the Parole Board may proceed as scheduled. Victims would also have the right to ask why the offender has waived a parole hearing. These measures would go a long way to preserving the peace of mind of victims.

Bill C-10 would also modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries. It will address disrespectful, intimidating, or assaultive behaviour, including the throwing of bodily substances. It would also restrict visits for inmates who have been segregated for serious disciplinary offences.

Our frontline officers have asked for these measures, and we are proud to deliver them.

This government is committed to transforming our corrections system to ensure that it actually corrects. We have already taken major steps to address the recommendations contained in “A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety”. The bill before the House continues this vital work.

Canadians deserve to feel safe in their homes. Victims deserve to be treated with more respect, corrections officers need the tools to do their jobs, and offenders must be prepared to take more responsibility for their conduct and pay the price if they break the rules. Bill C-10 will do all that.

Bill C-10 will do a lot for victims, including victims of terrorist attacks. Specifically, Bill C-10 will allow victims of terrorism to sue, in a Canadian court, perpetrators of terrorist acts and their supporters if the victims can demonstrate a real and substantial connection between their actions and Canada. In addition, an action could be brought against individuals, entities, or listed states that have provided support to a listed entity.

These provisions have been made retroactive to January 1, 1985, in order to allow victims of terrorism to seek redress for loss and damage that occurred as a result of a terrorist act committed anywhere in the world on or after that date.

Finally, Bill C-10, by amending the International Transfer of Offenders Act, will further strengthen our efforts to build safer streets and communities for all Canadians.

These amendments would ensure in law a number of additional key factors that may be taken into account in decisions respecting whether or not an offender serving a sentence overseas, or south of the line, should be granted a transfer back to Canada. This would include consideration of the safety of any person in Canada who is a victim or a member of the offender's family.

Another consideration would be whether, following the transfer, the offender would continue to engage in criminal activities or endanger the safety of a child, particularly in cases of offenders who have been convicted of sexual abuse.

Our government believes that protection of society must be the paramount concern of our justice system, and with the Safe Streets and Communities Act we are ensuring that law-abiding citizens and families are protected, criminals are held accountable, victims are heard and respected, and we have a corrections system that actually corrects.

As you know, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to keep our streets and communities safe. With the Safe Streets and Communities Act, that is exactly what we are continuing to do.

I would be happy to answer any questions you may wish to direct to me.

Thank you.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you to both the ministers.

Now we begin the rounds of questions. They are five-minutes rounds, and five minutes includes the question and the answer. I will cut it off in mid-word if necessary, to be fair to everybody.

First is Mr. Goguen, from the Conservatives.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question will be to Minister Nicholson.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

I'm sorry, it is my mistake.

Mr. Comartin, from the NDP, is first.

9 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

I have to say, Mr. Chair, that I know your government wants to rush this thing through, but we do have to follow the rules, and my side gets to go first.

Thank you to both ministers for being here.

I'd like to start, Mr. Nicholson, with you if I could. You have a study that you referred to constantly, on costs of crime in this country. My first question is whether that was commissioned by your department.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

I believe it was. The Department of Justice put that out, if you're referring to the one that indicates the cost of crime is approximately $99 billion. It's a 2008 Department of Justice document indicating that most of the costs are borne by victims.

9 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

That was commissioned back in 2008?

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Yes, it was.

9 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Who was the author of this?

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

It was done internally by the Department of Justice.

9 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

So the author is a member of the Department of Justice staff?

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

The Department of Justice.

9 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Did you at the same time commission a study on the costs of any of these bills, as they were then individual bills, and in particular the drug bill?