Debates of April 8th, 1997
House of Commons Hansard #151 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.
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I declare the motion agreed to.
April 8th, 1997 / 4 p.m.
Daphne Jennings Mission—Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If you seek it I think you would find unanimous consent of the House that at the end of debate on private member's Motion No. 267 the question will be deemed to have been put, a recorded division requested, and the vote deferred until the end of Government Orders on Wednesday, April 9.
Is there unanimous consent?
Some hon. members
The House resumed consideration of Bill C-17, an act to amend the Criminal Code and certain other acts, as reported (without amendment) from the committee; and of the motion.
Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK
Madam Speaker, we think the House is nearing the end of this session. We expect an election soon. It is unfortunate that just when everyone has learned to say the constituency name of Kindersley-Lloydminster it will cease to exist. We will have to learn to pronounce some new names.
I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill C-17, in particular the amendment regarding victim statements. It is very pertinent to what is ongoing today in the country.
A headline in today's Star Phoenix in Saskatoon reads ``Seeking rights for victims''. I will not read the entire article but in summary it states:
A grieving grandmother went to Parliament Hill to condemn a justice system she says coddles criminals and ignores victims. Theresa McCuaig whose grandson was tortured to death by four Ottawa street gang members backs Reform's proposed victims bill of rights.
Often the victims are the ones ignored not by Canadians and certainly not by those who care about people but certainly by our legal system, by our justice system, by the government and in particular by the Minister of Justice.
I have been a member of the House now for over 3.5 years. When I first came to the House many of the debates were on justice issues. I have heard my colleagues raise justice matters a number of times.
I come from a rural riding where people tend to trust one another and where the crime rate is probably among the lowest in Canada. Even rural Canada is beginning to see more victims of crime all the time. Certainly in our medium sized and larger cities the problem of crime is rampant and the list of victims is growing. The fact that victims are not given a proper set of rights in Canada's charter of rights is absolutely unacceptable.
When I was the Reform House leader I heard many bills and motions debated. It was always the same story. The Liberals would refuse to acknowledge there was a problem. They would be exposed to the truth time and time again, mostly by Reform members of Parliament. Case studies were presented to the House. The issue was raised at the justice committee. The issue was raised in the House. The issue was raised in Reform supply day motions.
Time and time again we would be heckled from the other side. They would ignore the problem and pretend there was no problem. There were all kinds of ridiculous statements from the Liberal side whose members were totally out of touch with the citizens of Canada who were telling us about the problems they were experiencing: we were extremists; we were raising an issue that was not important to Canadians; we were glorifying crime.
I remember being in Winnipeg in 1992 on the eve of the Charlottetown accord. A good friend's car was broken into while visiting Winnipeg. I thought gee, crime was starting to affect people close to me. Just the other day the wife of one of my staff had her car broken into right here in Ottawa.
When it starts happening to people we know and we start hearing about it not on an odd case by case basis but regularly, we start to wonder if as members of Parliament we are doing our job in correcting the problems with the justice system, in providing adequate protection for our citizens and in providing adequate protection for the victims of crime who are growing in number.
In her interview with the Star Phoenix Mrs. McCuaig said no. She said that the Reform Party's proposed bill of rights was the right thing. We also propose to allow victim statements and to allow the victims to have a proactive role in dealing with this issue rather than being reactive and having the rug pulled out from under them on a regular basis.
We have wasted time over the last 3.5 years. We have seen inaction on the part of the Liberal government. The Liberals said
there was no problem, that we were imagining things, that we were alarmists on the Reform side. Suddenly on the eve of an election the bells are ringing among the electorally challenged people. They are starting to wonder if they are going to be re-elected. They realize they have fallen short on the issue of correcting inadequacies in our justice system and in protecting the victims of crime.
We finally started to see some action by the justice minister. The government has agreed to Reform amendments that were proposed to strengthen Bill C-17 which we are currently debating.
The riding of Kindersley-Lloydminster will disappear. As a result I will be running in a new riding called Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar. The new portion of the riding that I will be seeking election in includes the west portion of Saskatoon. It has probably the highest crime rate in the city of Saskatoon.
I have been talking to citizens of this area. It is interesting to know who currently represents the area of Saskatoon I am seeking election in. One of the members of the legislative assembly is no less than the premier of Saskatchewan, Mr. Roy Romanow. It is interesting that an NDP premier of the province of Saskatchewan would be representing a high crime area. He has represented that area for some time. He has been in power for some time and from a provincial level has not been able to deal with the issue of crime.
Prior to the current justice minister in Saskatchewan, this area of the city of Saskatoon was represented by the provincial minister of justice, Mr. Mitchell. Mr. Romanow and Mr. Mitchell, two of the most powerful New Democrats in the province of Saskatchewan, were not able to reverse the trend of increasing crime in their own constituencies.
Then I looked to see who represented this part of the city federally. Lo and behold some of the most severe areas in which crimes occur are represented by the current member for Saskatoon-Dundurn. I looked at his resume. He has been involved in the justice committee. I believe he even chaired the committee for some time.
Seldom have I heard the member for Saskatoon-Dundurn speak in the House about the problems in his constituency. I have not sensed any concern on his part. He is one of the members who would often heckle us for raising the subject in the House of Commons. One would think he would have more concern for his constituents.
The current chair of the justice committee or parliamentary secretary is the member for Prince Albert-Churchill River. He also heckles us in the House when we raise the issue of crime. While the riding I want to represent is not one that he is currently involved with, it is just to the north in Prince Alberta.
Another person who is trying to represent this part of the city of Saskatoon and currently represents part of it is New Democratic justice critic, the member for Saskatoon-Clark's Crossing. It is interesting that I have not heard him speak in the House on crime issues. As the justice critic he is very silent. I hear our justice critics raising the issue in the House at every opportunity. I do not hear the NDP critic being concerned about victims. He has been very silent on the issue. He is more interested in the price of gasoline at the pumps than victims and victims rights. That concerns me.
Today I watched the Minister of Justice in question period who was sitting right across from me. Several members of our caucus asked the minister about his failure to act more quickly to correct some injustices in the justice system. I watched the minister talk about what he had done in the past and what he was proposing to do. It reminded me of lip sync. His mouth was going. He seemed to be saying words but I was not hearing anything. I do not think he really meant the words that were being broadcast over our public address system in the House of Commons.
It seemed like his heart was not in it. It seemed like he was saying it because he had to as we are on the eve of an election. It seemed like he was only pretending to be concerned about justice issues. He rather dismissed some of the serious concerns we brought forward. The only reason he has addressed this issue and allowed the amendments that we have put forward is because he fears the electorate.
That is the good thing about elections. Citizens' concerns can be ignored for a few months, perhaps for a few years, but then an amazing transformation overcomes government. We saw it previously with the Conservative government that did nothing at all in the justice area for the years that Prime Minister Mulroney was at the helm of his government. We have seen nothing of significance during this Liberal administration until the eve of an election. Suddenly the minister is talking about some of the reforms that could have been implemented in the first year of its mandate. There is only one way the Canadian public can rectify a problem if the members of its government refuses to listen and that is to replace it.
We expect that the most likely date for an election is June 2. Canadians will then have a chance to tell some of these Liberal members what they think of their performance in the House of Commons. They will be able to judge whether or not they voted the right way on justice issues. Some of those victims of crime, like Theresa McCuaig, their relatives and neighbours will finally be able to make their voices heard in the loudest possible way. That is the dropping of a ballot in the ballot box.
I want to close my comments this afternoon by saying that while I represent a rural riding I am becoming more and more aware of
the seriousness of the growth of crime in our country, not only in the urban areas but the rural areas as well. I am convinced that one of the primary reasons that my party is achieving more and more support by Canadians is because of the positions we have taken on the crime issue. We have been responsible. We have been aware. Perhaps the most important quality that has helped us is that we have been aware of the problem and then put forward constructive proposals.
It is with great joy that I support the second amendment to Bill C-17 that would allow for broader and better victim impact statements. I would ask all members to not only support this measure but also the many others that we have proposed. Let us fix the justice system together.
Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB
Madam Speaker, I find it rather frightening to look at the content of some of these omnibus bills. Bill C-17 is one of those bills. It actually encompasses a lot more than what my colleague has just described as a very important item. I agree the bill should go through because of the mandatory admission of victim impact statements. This should be one of the more significant pieces of legislation to talk about right now, and certainly pass.
There is a lot more in this bill that is frightening. It is frightening to see some of the very significant charges and sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code changed, for instance, the issue of house breaking. To unlawfully break into a dwelling is now considered to be a dual procedure offence whereas it was considered an offence carrying a minimum of 10 years in prison. Some of the other changes that we see in the sentencing provisions trivialize the offence.
Unfortunately, over the last three and a half years, that is exactly the kind of legislation that the country has been getting from the Liberal government. It is an effort to trivialize some of the more serious offences which have been committed against society.
We are going to be contending with a weakness when it comes to some very significant charges like shop breaking and being unlawfully in a dwelling house, where they will be placed into a dual procedure category which they should not be. They should be maintained as serious charges.
The major topic that I want to speak on is victim impact statements. I have had the opportunity to sit in on several court hearings, as have my staff and other members of the Reform Party. We have managed to glean from these hearings what is happening with victim impact statements.
Victim impact statements should be mandatory. Bill C-17 addresses that point. However, the statements should be pure in the sense that whatever impact the victim feels the crime has had on his or her life should be told to the court. At the present time a judge can look at the victim's impact statement, with the accused present, and edit the statement. That is absolute nonsense. The edited statement may not be anywhere close to what the victim had intended.
Evidence is evidence. Why should a judge be given the power to alter the statement of a witness? That is exactly what is happening.
I attended the hearing in Saskatchewan concerning Marie King Forest. I watched the judge tear her statement apart. He called it editorializing. He told her not to get emotional. This happened not only in that hearing, but also in the following one I attended which was held in Calgary. The victims were told that if they got emotional there might be a re-trial of the offence. What are our courts turning into?
Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK
Try the victims.
Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB
Yes, as my colleague puts out, it is to try the victims. It is to upset them. It is to keep every victim off balance. That is the message they are getting. Why should we, as parliamentarians, allow that to happen?
When this issue came forward many months ago, in fact many years ago if we look at section 745, which was implemented over 15 years ago by a Liberal government, why were there not outcries from every parliamentarian? There was not. The Liberal Party is content to leave it that way. It is content to keep the victims in our society on edge, off balance and constantly suffering.
There is a point of justice and I do not believe that it is being delivered as it should be by the Liberal government with the legislation which it has brought forward. In spite of the fact that the Liberals have been told time and again, they refuse to make any adjustment.
I believe that in section 745 hearings the statements are very important. At the most recent hearing which I attended we heard the statements of other witnesses. This case concerned Mr. Glaremin. If the victim's impact statement can be altered, what about other witness statements which are issued?
Expert testimony was granted at Glaremin's trial. However, it was not from an expert. It was from a paraphrased condensed version that the court allowed to be entered and allowed the jury to read. In other words, somebody had already altered it. It was supposed to be from the expert witnesses. There was no opportunity for even the crown to cross-examine it. This is absolute nonsense.
The killer was then up on the stand giving his evidence. What was he saying? Was he telling the jury how he felt? Absolutely. Was his statement altered or edited by the judge? No way. He could even reconstruct the events that brought about his conviction.
There may have been some objection on the part of the crown in reference to that point, but he said it and the witnesses were not around to say otherwise because the trial was long gone. It had been 15 years ago. Here again was the opportunity for the jury to hear a very sanitized version of what had really happened. That is what happens at a section 745 hearing.
We should not be talking about just a single statement. This omnibus bill, C-17, should strike section 745 and clear it right off the books. That is where it should end. First degree, premeditated murderers should be subject to the most severe of penalties, not some opportunity for involving parliamentarians in a debate on whether a statement is good or not or that the murderer could get out earlier. First degree, premeditated murderers should be subject to the most severe of penalties.
I have had several victims in my office over the last little while. The consensus right now is not to have anything done with section 745 but to bring back the death penalty. That is the comment and the desire, I would suggest, on the part of a number of Canadians. I would suggest that number is very high. People want section 745 gone but they also do not ever want killers let out. Not only should life mean life but the ultimate penalty is now being discussed in an even broader context.
However, this is not on the lips of the Liberal members. The death penalty is not a item that will ever be brought to the floor by the Liberals.
Reform's position on the death penalty is that we would like to see it brought to the people in the form of a binding national referendum for first degree, premeditated murderers. That is really the way to deal with the issue. Who wants to entrust it to elected representatives who refuse to do what the people want? Give it back to the people and let them decide. If the issue should be brought forward then so be it, it will be brought forward.
We could go on and on about section 745 because this issue will never die. There are some 600 possible applications coming up under this section. I think that is to what Canadians should really pay attention. The pressure should come on the federal government, the Liberal government. It brought this section in and it is up to the Liberals to get rid of it. If not then they should be voted out of office.
Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB
Madam Speaker, I rise today as well to give my thoughts on the two amendments that we are debating and most specifically this latter one before the House.
What I find, after listening to the debate today and the comments made by my colleagues from the Reform Party, is that when one really listens to what is being said and what is being done here, the Liberals are trying to play catch up. The Liberals made a lot of mistakes in this legislation. These two amendments are two examples of admissions of failure, the failure of the justice minister to get it right the first time.
For those who may not understand what I am talking about, let me give a brief history here. Somewhere along this session of the 35th Parliament we brought in Bill C-17 which is basically an omnibus bill, technicalities to improve things for legislatures, police officers and so on, and then we went on to Bill C-41. Bill C-41 had a provision that gave an automatic right for victims to issue an impact statement or a victim statement at a trial, should they so choose. That was an automatic right. We supported that. Then the government brought in Bill C-45-
An hon. member
You voted against it.
Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB
We supported that clause. The whole bill was not entirely good enough, so the party may have voted against it, but that particular issue we supported.
Then on Bill C-45 the government introduced more Criminal Code amendments and then in that bill it removed the automatic right of a victim impact statement by deferring it to the year 2012. What kind of justice minister passes into law a victim impact statement automatic and then brings in another piece of legislation that defers it, eliminates it, until the year 2012? Does he really care about the victims? Does he really understand about the victims and the impact that crime, deaths and all these things have on them?
This is an admission of failure because the government passed two laws that contradicted each other on this particular issue. Now it wants to bring in an amendment to rectify the situation.
Somebody caught it. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice in committee caught it. I said perhaps. It has now been clarified. The Reform Party members in the justice committee caught it. They pointed this out and the intelligent Liberals in that committee listened.
Today in question period the justice minister took credit for ordering the committee to do this. We know otherwise.
Now there is an amendment before us that rectifies this and reintroduces the automatic victim impact statements. We believe it is for political reasons. We believe it is because an election is around the corner. If it is not in the next month or so, it will be in the fall. The Liberals will be able to claim they have looked after the interests of victims. So be it. The people will make that decision themselves, but we are glad that it is in here. We are glad that this is now law. I do not care whether it is for election
purposes or not, I am glad it is in here. For that purpose we are supporting the amendments.
Why did the government not bring back Bill C-55? We have a fear in our society by people who are worried that there are dangerous criminals out there, high risk offenders, repeat offenders and how we are going to handle them. That is another issue that came up today in question period when we asked the justice minister what he was going to do for those 200 families that sent letters to the member for Red Deer about this pedophile being let out. This is the ninth time this individual has been let out and repeating the same crime. He goes in, comes back, does the crime, goes back and the answer was "we are going to send him a copy of Bill C-55". Who understands that as a solution?
The real solution is to bring that bill back and let us debate it. I talked to our critic for the solicitor general, the member for Calgary Northeast, and he informed me that the real problem with the bill is that the government, specifically the justice minister, is worried about dangerous offenders, and he is hanging his hat on the word dangerous, and pedophiles are not considered dangerous. They are considered habitual. I am just a businessman and I do not care whether he habitually does dangerous things or does dangerous things once in a while; either one is equally bad, either one should be punished under the law and they should be punished the same. We have to do something about pedophiles in our society because they are becoming dangerous.
If we do not do something about it we are going to put more fear into the lives of average Canadians, our neighbours, people who live beside us with kids.
The solution we recommend is bring back that bill and amend it. It talks about victims and victim rights and what to do about high risk offenders, repeat offenders, dangerous offenders, habitual offenders and we can take care of it. Let us build a prison for them and keep them there for life, those who are certifiably incurable.
If they can be cured and have served their time and are released, that is the law. But if they do it a second time, that is it, they are gone. But nine times is ridiculous. Every expert from psychiatrists to police officers has said he is going to do it again. Is it going to your daughter or my daughter? Whose son will it be? Yours or mine? Do we have to wait? Why can something not be done? Why not build a home for these people and put them away for life? But no, we are not debating that. We have to go on to the other failures of this government.
The justice minister has acted irresponsibly on innuendo. Perhaps the Pearson airport deal was something that came from the Prime Minister, I do not know. But he acted on it and he denied the rights of ordinary citizens to go to court to file a statement of claim for damages, taking away the rights of individuals. Two days ago in question period the defence minister said "we respect the rights of the courts and citizens before the courts". Yes, that was really doing it in the Pearson airport deal.
That fiasco has cost us over $200 million already and we are not finished with it yet and we do not know what is going to happen with it. However, we have a justice minister who claims the contract is going to be cancelled because the developers are going to make too much profit.
Then in discoveries we found out that the government's defence will be that it is denying them the right to go to court because it was going to lose money. That is contradictory.
Then there is Airbus. Allegedly through newspaper reports and from a little tweety bird whispering in his ear he heard that perhaps former Prime Minister Mulroney did something he should not have done. He then conducted an investigation and claims he did not. Somehow it happened and now there has been an out of court settlement. We all know the story. I will not bore the House with the details. That cost us some money.
The government through this amendment is admitting that it has failed to serve the justice needs of the country.
The Criminal Code is confusing. It is almost as bad as the Income Tax Act. When we try to clarify things and make our streets safer, make our citizens feel more comfortable that the law is being applied, what do we get, even with this amendment? We leave it to a judge to decide whether he or she is satisfied that the accused who is serving a sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of its citizens.
The problem with our laws is that they are too discretionary. There is too wide a range for judges to decide. It is too hard for them to pinpoint and they always err on the side of caution. That is why sentences are weaker than they should be. That is why the punishment does not fit the crime in a lot of cases. We should narrow the range.
The Young Offenders Act is a disaster. It is not punishing young offenders the right way. Young kids are still getting away with committing serious crimes.
I submit that these amendments are an admission of failure by the government. We are glad it is finally being admitted. We are glad that government members listened to Reform members in the justice committee and that they are doing the right thing and restoring the automatic right of victims to produce an impact statement should they desire to do so. Nevertheless, they should not be harassed by judges. They should be allowed to give statements freely in a way which would communicate their feelings.
Justice is served only if we do it right. If we just trade words back and forth here in the House of Commons saying that we took action and got legislation it will not be right. We in the opposition are saying that the government does not have it right. It had the
opportunity to do it right, but it is not doing it right. It will not listen. I believe it should. Maybe this is an example where it will.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)
It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for The Battlefords-Meadow Lake-railways.
Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC
Madam Speaker, when members are elected to the House it is the general understanding of Canadians that they are sent to the House to represent the views and the concerns of the Canadian people, the people who go to the polls to elect them. We in the Reform Party truly believe that is our role here, to act on behalf of our constituents but also to represent the voice of the Canadian people even in ridings where we were not elected if they are not being represented by the MPs who were elected in those ridings.
We are seeing with the Liberal Party, with this government and in particular the Minister of Justice a complete and absolute failure to deal with issues of justice and issues concerning the Criminal Code that will respect the concerns of the Canadian people. There is no larger example of the use of the word failure when it comes to the Liberal Minister of Justice. I would like to talk about some of the failures.
The whole debate today is the failure of the Liberal justice minister to properly address issues in legislation that have been put forward by his department. The amendments in Bill C-17 reinstate the automatic right of victims to present impact statements at parole or judicial hearings. This right was granted through Bill C-41, then taken away through Bill C-45. This is not only a failure of the concerns of the Canadian people but it is a huge example of the incompetence of the Minister of Justice who was put in that position.
The justice minister is the highest justice position in the Canadian government. He was put in that position because the Prime Minister had confidence that he could do that job. He has failed to do that job and not only has he failed in this instance to appropriately recognize the deficiencies in the legislation that he put forward and take steps prior to it being introduced in the House, he failed to understand what the Canadian people wanted. He failed to understand how important victim impact statements are parole or judicial hearings. He failed and failure is not acceptable when it comes to justice issues, nor is it acceptable when it comes to dealing with the issues of the Canadian people.
That is what this minister has done, he has failed. He failed in this case. He failed in bringing in appropriate legislation under Bill C-68. He told the country that Bill C-68 was to be the be all and end all to eliminating firearms crimes. That is what he said over and over. The Liberal said this was going to fix people who commit firearms offences in Canada.
There was not one substantial piece of evidence to support that rationale. There is not one member of the Liberal Party who has been able to put forward one shred of evidence to clearly show that Bill C-68, the gun control bill, ever had any hope of addressing criminals who commit firearms crimes.
It will accomplish something.
My theory and the theory of many Canadians is that the agenda behind Bill C-68 is a massive cash grab by the government. The average between the high and the low estimates of firearms is probably around 10 million. Under Bill C-68 the Liberal government has the complete freedom to impose registration fees. The government is not restricted. It can impose annual fees on every registered firearm. It will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $100 a year to own a firearm. That would be $1 billion.
Gordon Kirkby Prince Albert—Churchill River, SK
What a bunch of garbage.