House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judges.

Topics

Dna Identification Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The solicitor general has now arrived. Is it agreed that he may speak since he is the mover of the bill?

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3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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3:40 p.m.

Fredericton
New Brunswick

Liberal

Andy Scott Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the consent of the House. I just left the reading room where we were having a familiarization program on our crime prevention initiative. I appreciate the number of representatives of your staff who are participating in that exercise. You are to be commended.

I am pleased to address the House today at third reading of Bill C-3 which provides for the establishment of Canada's national DNA databank. The DNA identification act will make Canada one of only a handful of countries in the world to have a national system of this kind. I am very pleased to say that this groundbreaking legislation is a major milestone in the government's safer communities agenda. Public safety is my priority. To that end Bill C-3 forms an important part of my commitment to Canadians.

Our intention in the legislation is to create a practical law enforcement tool for police that will stand the test of time. We have been mindful that this exercise involves a careful balancing of public safety measures on one hand and privacy rights which Canadians hold dearly on the other. In this regard we have found the right balance.

Since the bill was introduced last September members of the House have proceeded cautiously in their consideration of the legislation. I believe this approach is laudable given the scope of the issues surrounding the use and potential misuse of DNA profiles and samples as well as the legal and ethical considerations. That is the reason Bill C-3 was referred to the committee prior to second reading.

I encouraged amendments to improve it and had every expectations that we would come out of this exercise with a better bill. In my view that is exactly what has been achieved.

I will now explain how Bill C-3 was drafted, how it is to be applied, what its advantages will be, and finally how it has been improved through the efforts of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Introduction of the DNA Identification Act constitutes phase two of the government's strategy on DNA.

The introduction of the DNA identification act marked the second phase of the government's DNA strategy. The first important step involved laying out the requirements for when DNA samples could be obtained for the purpose of criminal investigation. As a result, in July 1995 amendments to the Criminal Code were passed to allow police to obtain DNA samples from suspects in criminal investigations with the use of a warrant.

That legislation provided the police with an effective tool that has helped them solve hundreds of serious crimes. It has been effective because it has been used to help eliminate suspects and secure convictions. It has been instrumental in obtaining guilty pleas, thereby sparing victims the trauma of testifying and reducing overall investigation and court costs. It has also withstood constitutional challenge.

With the DNA warrant legislation firmly in place, the government is proceeding to the next step of its DNA initiative, creating a framework for storing DNA samples and using stored DNA information in the investigation of serious criminal offences.

A national DNA databank will be an important tool to help police link a suspect with evidence left at a crime scene. The ability to store and later retrieve DNA profiles will shorten investigations and help prevent further violence by repeat offenders. This means better public safety for all Canadians.

Further, Bill C-3 will authorize police to collect DNA samples for offenders convicted of designated criminal offences. These include the most serious personal injury crimes, including homicide and sexual offence, which are likely to be associated with DNA evidence being found at the crime scene.

Samples will be analysed with the resulting profile entered into the convicted offenders index of the databank. The databank will also have a crime scene index containing DNA information retrieved from crime scenes. By having this structure profiles can be cross-referenced to find a match in the system.

The benefits of such a system are clear. Stored DNA information will enable police to more quickly identify suspects where they have no leads and identify repeat offenders across police jurisdictions. It also has the potential to deter offenders from committing future crimes as they will know that because their DNA profile is in the databank they will not be able to slip through the cracks.

Throughout the development of Bill C-3 the federal government has sought the advice and expertise of many groups and individuals, including those on the front lines.

In addition, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights held 15 witness hearings on the bill with representatives from 17 different organizations, including police associations, victims groups and legal organizations.

These consultations revealed strong support for the creation of a national DNA databank but there were also a number of concerns regarding Canadian values of privacy, public protection and individual rights guaranteed by the charter. To respond to those concerns and improve the overall effectiveness of the bill, a number of amendments have been made since the legislation was introduced last fall.

Various interest groups, including the privacy commissioner, le Barreau du Québec and the national action committee on the status of women, suggested that the bill did not contain sufficient safeguards to protect the use of DNA profiles from the samples of victims, cleared suspects and people who volunteer samples to help police.

As a result, the government brought a motion to clarify that access to the information contained in the crime scene index shall be permanently removed if it relates to a victim or person who has been eliminated as a suspect in a criminal investigation.

We heard that DNA analysis has come a long way since it was first used in the criminal justice system just 10 years ago. While the technology has matured at a swift pace, one thing remains constant. DNA has the potential to reveal much more about a person than a fingerprint. As one committee member put it, a fingerprint leaves an impression of me, DNA is a part of me.

To ensure that DNA information is safeguarded and used only for the purpose of forensic DNA analysis, the bill sets out very limited access to the databank. It prohibits any improper use of information and limits access only to those directly involved with its ongoing operation and maintenance.

To further protect the privacy of innocent persons, the bill contains a new provision specifying that access to DNA information shall be permanently removed where a person has been eliminated as a suspect.

During committee hearings on the bill we heard from several witnesses and committee members that the proposed designated offence list could be expanded to capture other serious offences for which DNA evidence might be useful.

The committee addressed this by adding infanticide to the primary list and expanding the secondary list to include dangerous and impaired driving causing bodily harm or death and a number of sexual offences.

I believe these changes will be invaluable to police and will enhance public safety. During the committee's hearings, several witnesses recommended that the retroactive scheme be expanded to include samples from not only dangerous offenders and repeat sex offenders but murderers who have killed more than once.

The government acted on this by bringing in an amendment to the bill to allow DNA to be collected retroactively from such offenders. This expansion will capture offenders like many known in Canada and will provide the police with valuable information to help solve outstanding criminal cases.

I conclude by sharing the rationale for taking samples at conviction. The police have expressed strong views that DNA samples should be taken earlier, at the time of arrest or charge.

I remind members that police already have the authority to take DNA samples at the time of arrest where they get a warrant to do so. They will continue to be able to use DNA evidence for investigative purposes in accordance with the DNA warrant scheme in place for almost three years.

The departments of justice and solicitor general consulted extensively on this issue and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights thoroughly reviewed it. The vast majority of those consulted expressed the view that taking samples after a person has been convicted will respect the rights of all Canadians under the charter.

They also shared the position that taking samples at arrest or charge could pose a very serious risk of being struck down as unconstitutional. Given that many individuals and organizations have continued to press for expanding this provision, my colleague, the Minister of Justice, sought independent legal opinion from three of Canada's most eminent justices.

Each one concluded that a proposal to take samples at the time of arrest for databanking purposes would not survive a charter challenge. Some members have brushed the legal opinions aside and have argued that the charter is simply a road block to justice.

Let me remind the hon. members that parliament's authority to legislate flows from the Constitution. The Constitution includes the charter which protects the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Canadians.

It is the duty of parliament to exercise its authority in a manner that respects the charter. Taking samples for the databank at the time of conviction rather than at the time of arrest or charge will not prevent police from doing their job.

It will provide police with an effective investigative tool that will allow them to do their job and ensure that the authority to use this tool will comply with our constitutional requirement as recently defined by the supreme court.

As I said earlier, we have come out of committee hearings with a stronger bill. It is the government's view that Bill C-3 is fundamentally sound.

We are confident that we have found an effective balance between the need to provide the police with the tools they need to do their job and the requirement to respect the constitutional and privacy rights of all Canadians. There is no question that the use of DNA evidence has been a significant breakthrough in the criminal justice system. But we must be mindful that it is a powerful tool and one that must be safeguarded against potential abuse. The creation of a databank that can be upheld by the courts will go a long way toward protecting Canadians from repeat violent offenders.

I urge members to support Bill C-3 so that we can proceed in creating Canada's first national DNA databank. I thank all members who have brought much to improve this bill for their participation in this exercise.

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3:55 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Sydney—Victoria has a plane to catch. We would be prepared to switch the order of speakers.

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3:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Sydney—Victoria will have 20 minutes with 10 minutes questions and comments. Then we will go back to the two remaining 40 minute speeches from the official opposition and the Bloc Quebecois.

Is there unanimous consent that we proceed in this way?

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3:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the members.

The solicitor general has indicated that there were long deliberations before the standing committee on justice. There have been. Many members participated in that and many expert witnesses came before the committee. Many of us on the committee learned a great deal. We learned what DNA means. We learned how it is extracted. We learned how it is banked. We heard from many groups as varied as the national action committee on the status of women, police association representatives, the Canadian Bar Associations. Many groups had an interest in this legislation.

Many members in this House put forward amendments to the bill. They were well thought out amendments that concerned the way the bill would be in place and the process by which it would be accessed by both the police and the courts.

The solicitor general was correct when he said we attempted to achieve a balance between the civil rights of individuals, the privacy rights of individuals and the very compelling need for the police to have an important tool to help them fight crime.

The question of where a balance is met is always one that is open to debate. Each of us would have differing views as to exactly where on the scale we ought to shift some of the weight. I introduced amendments, some of which were taken into account by the government and incorporated in the legislation. Others were introduced in the House and have received support from most parties except the government.

It was my request that the period of incarceration for someone who would breach the privacy laws be extended from two years to five but that was not deemed appropriate enough for the government to support it.

It is important that the House with the passage of this bill will provide the police with an important tool to more readily address and solve crime. We cannot forget that the DNA databank is a tool of investigation. It is one more weapon in the arsenal of the police to allow them to bring forward information essential to assist the courts, the judiciary and in some cases juries in determining guilt or innocence of an individual.

It will assist the police in bringing forward charges and help them establish whether they have reasonable and probable grounds to determine whether a crime has been committed and a charge should be laid.

It will help society. It will citizens. It will help the police. We must always balance that with the rights of the individual. I expect my colleagues will address the issue of whether DNA samples ought to be taken at the time of arrest or at the time of conviction. That was the subject of a motion put forward by the member for Crowfoot and it received extensive debate in this House. My comments on that are well known.

I could not have supported that motion but it was still one view to balancing what is the best way to bring forward this legislation. There are others. I do not think any member was discouraged from making their views known.

We debated this issue extensively and I think as a result Canadians are getting a typical piece of Canadian legislation. It is one whereby compromise has been made and one whereby we hope we have come up with the best legislation. It is subject to review and there were amendments put forward during debate to ensure that it came before the House on a more regular basis. It will be reviewed by the House in a few years to determine whether we made mistakes, whether changes need to be made.

I acknowledge the many witnesses who came before the committee. Even though we may in some cases have disagreed with them, every member of that committee respects the views presented. We engaged in great debate and dialogue with those individuals and I thank them on behalf of my party and on behalf of the House for coming forward, for making the trip to Ottawa to give us what they felt was important information.

We have struck a bill. It may not be the best but it is one that my party can support. We have compromised to some extent but I think we still have protected the rights of individuals and provided the police associations with the necessary tool to fight crime. That is always a difficult balance. It is one that we have all struggled with but I think we have come up with the best we could.

House Of Commons
Government Orders

June 4th, 1998 / 4 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order pursuant to an issue raised earlier this afternoon and well put by all House leaders. Pursuant to discussions held subsequently, I now offer the following motion to the House and ask for unanimous consent that it be passed immediately without debate. I move:

That this House order that Ernst Zundel be denied admittance to the precincts of the House of Commons during and for the remainder of the present session.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-3, an act respecting DNA identification and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Code and other acts, be read the third time and passed.

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4:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We will dispense with the period for questions and comments on the speech of the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria.

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4:05 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-3 at third reading. I have some concerns about this bill.

The Reform Party is firmly committed to restoring confidence in our justice system and providing Canadians with a truer sense of security. This includes strengthening our law enforcement agencies by providing them with the latest technological tools to quickly detect and apprehend the perpetrators of the most violent crimes committed in our society. DNA identification is that kind of tool.

If used to its full potential, the DNA databank could be the single most important development in fighting crime since the introduction of fingerprints. To deny our police the full use of this technology in their fight against crime, as Bill C-3 in its present form does, is reprehensible and unacceptable because it maintains an unnecessary level of risk to the lives and safety of our citizens. If passed unamended, Bill C-3, an act respecting DNA identification, will provide Canadians with at least a false sense of security. Therefore the Reform Party cannot support this inadequate piece of legislation. The Reform Party fully supports the creation of a DNA databank. However, we do not support the limited scope of Bill C-3.

Bill C-3 does not grant our police forces full use of the DNA technology so readily at their disposal. It is a tool that would help close hundreds of unsolved murders and rapes with an enormous potential to save lives by removing predators from the streets.

Bill C-3 does not allow for the taking of a DNA sample at the time of charge. It does not permit samples to be taken from incarcerated criminals other than designated dangerous offenders, multiple sex offenders and multiple murderers. If a multiple murderer commits the murders on the same night we cannot take a sample from him. The murders must be committed separately. Again, it is unacceptable from that point of view.

Bill C-3 provides a dangerous and unnecessary exemption. It authorizes judges not to issue warrants for the taking of samples if they believe that in doing so the impact on the individual's privacy and security would be grossly disproportionate to the public interest in the protection of society. We asked during committee hearings for an example of that. I did not hear a reasonable or common sense example of what that meant, what that part of the bill is really addressing.

There are hundreds of unsolved assaults, rapes and homicides where DNA evidence has been left at the scene by the perpetrator. DNA identification now offers an unparalleled opportunity to solve many of these cases and bring the perpetrators to justice. However, because of the government's irrational fear of violating the privacy rights of those responsible for these heinous crimes, it is restricting the use of this very important technology by our law enforcement people.

As it stands now Bill C-3 is a hindrance to more effective law enforcement and a safer society by these limitations. Those responsible for shaping our justice system continue to express a willingness to place the lives and safety of innocent people in jeopardy. I sometimes wonder if the government does not consider the lives of Canadians very cheap.

It is very unconcerned about the lives and safety of people in society although it expresses comments contrary to that. Life is pretty cheap when we look at some of the decisions being made as a result of legislation passed by this place and the refusal of the government to move where it is obvious that it could move and where there is no obstruction except its irrational fear of what the Supreme Court of Canada might do with regard to the charter of rights and freedoms.

Those responsible for shaping our justice system continue to express a willingness to place the lives and safety of innocent people in jeopardy whether by paroling violent offenders who go on to rape and murder again or by freeing convicted violent offenders through conditional sentencing or by tying the hands of our police officers through Bill C-3. The safety of society seems to be a secondary issue to this government.

During report stage of this bill I introduced an amendment which would allow for the taking of samples at the time of charge from offenders with one previous conviction and retained for analysis upon conviction. Our original amendment introduced during clause by clause review was to allow for the taking of samples from all persons charged with primary designated offences. Since this amendment was defeated, we put forward an amended version at report stage taking into consideration the concerns raised by the government.

The government cited finances as one reason why it would not expand the DNA bank and allow for samples to be taken and analysed at the time of charge rather than conviction. I specifically addressed the issue of cost, proposing that samples be taken upon charge but not analysed until conviction. This would satisfy the Canadian Police Association's concerns regarding offenders who are released on bail pending trial skipping out.

If offenders are guilty of a previous offence for which they have not been charged, they may not appear for their trial if they realize that upon conviction their DNA sample may be compared to DNA evidence left at the scene of unsolved crimes. This amendment was recommended by the Canadian Police Association.

The other reason supplied by the justice minister for refusing to allow samples to be taken at the time of charge was that it would not withstand a constitutional challenge. To date, a number of this government's bills have resulted in court challenges.

Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the two territories are awaiting the Alberta Court of Appeal's decision on the constitutionality of Bill C-68, the firearms legislation.

The rape shield law, brought in by the former justice minister, has been deemed unconstitutional. Conditional sentencing, also courtesy of the former justice minister, has been the subject of controversy in the courts. In January a three judge panel from the Alberta Court of Appeal issued a ripping indictment of what it termed unimaginative and skimpy attempts to apply the new law.

In the 50 page ruling the appeal justices detailed several major complaints they have on the way judges and lawyers have been applying the reform. The Alberta court blasted judges for handing out poorly reasoned and lenient conditional sentences that amount to little more than house arrest.

After Bill C-3 was reported out of committee and ready for report stage, the justice minister circulated to members of the standing committee three legal opinions on the constitutionality of taking DNA samples at the time of charge. The legal opinions were expressed by the hon. Claude Bisson, the hon. Martin Taylor and the hon. Charles Dubin. They all stated that the taking of DNA samples at the time of charge would be unconstitutional. The minister failed to provide any dissenting opinions such as that prepared by Tim Danson for the Canadian Police Association.

I have examined the three opinions hurriedly provided to indicate that the taking of DNA samples at the time of charge would be unconstitutional. They seem shallow and unconvincing perhaps because of their hurried nature. The opinion prepared by Tim Danson for the Canadian Police Association was presented before the committee and we had an opportunity to examine it. We have not had an opportunity to examine the three legal opinions by the authorities that I quoted. The committee has not had an opportunity to call witnesses or to ask witnesses who appeared before the committee questions about the three legal opinions.

I want to just touch on why I have a grave concern in this area and to quote from legal opinions. The honourable Claude Bisson does not deal with the authority of police to obtain a blood sample from a person suspected of impaired driving from alcohol or drugs. That authority is contained within the Criminal Code now.

Why would he not deal with that? If there is authority to take a blood sample now for impaired driving, why is there concern about taking a blood sample or a hair sample or a swab from the mouth? Why, if the authority is there now and it is constitutional, would an amendment allowing for a blood sample to be taken at the time of charge for a primary designated offence for the purpose of DNA sampling be unconstitutional in the bill?

I do not understand why the honourable Claude Bisson did not address this issue in his legal opinion. Also, the legal opinion prepared by the honourable Charles L. Dubin makes the same omission. It does not deal with the authority of police to take blood samples when individuals are suspected of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

That issue is covered to a certain degree by the honourable Martin R. Taylor in his legal opinion. Yet it is difficult for me to understand the reasoning in this document, why it is constitutional to take a blood sample today under certain circumstances but unconstitutional to take a blood sample from someone not suspected of a crime but charged with a crime, of committing a primary designated offence.

I say with consideration and respect that these three legal opinions appear to be hurried and not well thought through. I want to quote one of them. This is the legal opinion submitted by the honourable Martin R. Taylor, Q.C., who stated on page 4:

Certainly some scepticism is to be expected in Canada today regarding the handling of bodily substances by public authorities. When DNA samples pass out of the control of the arrested person into that of the State, the uses to which they may be put depend not only on the law as it is and may become, but also on the competence of those who take control of them and their willingness to obey the law. The uses to which DNA may be put in providing personal information regarding the individual, while known to go well beyond the field of criminal identification, are at present only partly and imperfectly understood. Such factors as these will, in my opinion, be found by the courts to render the taking of DNA samples against the will of the individual particularly significant in terms of both denial of reasonable expectation of privacy and invasion of security of the person.

It seems it is all right to take a blood sample in the case of a suspected impaired driver but when we start to talk about DNA it is altogether different. The word DNA seems to create a degree of apprehension, a degree of perhaps even fear. The consequences of not properly guarding and protecting a DNA sample, whether we call it a blood sample taken for the purposes of determining if a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs, or whether it is a sample to compare with a DNA sample left at the scene of a crime, does not really matter. The invasion of privacy has taken place. We already have that in the criminal code. It is already there. What is the difference?

When we talk about the security of the person there is no justification to deny on the grounds of privacy because the authority is already there, as I have said, to take a blood sample in the case of impaired driving. That authority is there and overrules the privacy of the individual.

Let us look at the other reason the honourable Martin R. Taylor pointed out, the invasion of the security of the person. Privacy and security. The point I am making and I am coming to is that thousands and thousands of blood samples are taken every day by doctors. There are blood banks in clinics. Every time we go for an annual check-up and a blood sample is taken it goes into a bank. Every time a child is born a blood sample is taken from that child for obvious reasons.

Those samples are there for at least a period time. I do not know how long banks hold them. If there was a realistic concern as expressed in this legal opinion that the privacy of the individual were at stake and that somehow these samples would be used improperly, why is that not happening? Why is there no evidence of that happening?

Surely the bank, the taking of samples and the databank designed through Bill C-3 provide the greatest protection of the gathering of blood samples and other samples anywhere in the country today.

These people are telling us different through their legal opinions. They are trying to convince us that somehow there is lurking in the wings a successful charter challenge against doing what is being done all over the land based upon the fact that someone may use these samples incorrectly.

There is no evidence that has ever been done. There is no criminal offence as there is in the legislation for the improper use of DNA samples. There is no offence legislated for anyone misusing the blood sample that I give during my annual check-up or those of anyone or the samples taken from human beings at the time of birth. There is no evidence of this and this is not addressed in the legal opinions.

This is very important. With the greatest respect, the government has obtained legal opinions that suit its purposes and has brought them forward to attempt to negate the clear legal opinion by Mr. Danson who prepared and submitted a legal opinion for the committee by the Canadian Police Association, clearly indicating that there is no constitutional concern about taking samples at the time of charge.

The three legal opinions were obtained after we had an opportunity to call witnesses and to examine the contents of their findings, their recommendations and their decisions on this question. I am prepared to move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefor:

“Bill C-3, An Act respecting DNA identification and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Code and others Acts, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for the purpose of reconsidering Clause 17, in order to ensure that the taking of DNA samples at the time of charge be subject to review”.

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4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Debate is on the amendment.

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4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill C-3. This bill was considered at length in committee, and I must commend the work done by all members of the committee.

While opinions differed, I would say even very significantly at times, discussions were always courteous. The bill was examined responsibly and with professionalism and I thank the members of the committee.

On behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I would also like to thank all the witnesses who presented their views to the committee. Their opinions were attentively listened to, unfortunately not always so attentively by the government members, but I will come back to that.

Bill C-3, which concerns DNA identification, is the focus of a number of societal debates in Canada. Science has made such progress, especially in the field of genetics, that debates such as the one on Bill C-3 are giving rise to great moral, philosophical, ethical and, consequently, political questions.

To the great distress of many, I am sure, I will leave aside philosophical and moral considerations and limit myself to practical aspects and to the actual application of the provisions of C-3.

Before going into greater depth in this area, I must, as a parliamentarian, lament the narrow-mindedness of the government in this matter. The legislative process followed by Bill C-3 is comparable to the Liberal reign. The scope is narrow, there is little movement and there is no interest in hearing not only the members of this House, but the many witnesses who came to express their various opinions before the committee.

The Liberal government, unfortunately, was trying to score political points with issues as important as Bill C-3. It is important to speak out against the Liberals' attitude, because the public will most certainly end up having to live with the consequences of this government's narrow-mindedness, its rigidity throughout the entire process of the debate on Bill C-3.

I cannot help but admit that I am somewhat disappointed, because Bill C-3 is an innovative bill that will lay the groundwork for the use of DNA for a number of years to come.

We must be aware that the technology of today will be obsolete in 5, 10 or 15 years, and the guidelines set out in this bill will be those followed when new technological advances come along. This is, therefore, a very important debate.

The solicitor general's original initiative to create a DNA data bank on the most dangerous criminals in our society is a highly laudable one. I should point out here that the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of this bill and will support it regardless, once this debate is concluded.

The partisan attitude of the Liberals, however, has blocked certain constructive amendments which, in my opinion, were essential to application of this legislative measure.

There were 14 motions at the report stage, in order to clarify, modify or tighten up Bill C-3. I myself proposed eight of them on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois. The purpose of most of these was to ensure greater transparency in implementing the act, and particularly to protect the highly confidential information the data bank will contain.

As my New Democratic colleague mentioned earlier, this entire bill will be decided by the balance between the rights of individuals and the need to protect society. The whole debate can be summarized by this dichotomy of individual rights versus protection of society. Most of the discussions we have had in this House or in committee centred on this issue.

Let us imagine for an instant the scope of information contained in the genetic index. DNA profiles infallibly identify an individual from a hair, saliva or blood. However, they identify not only the individual, but the individual's family as well. A brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, a father or a mother may also be identified, to a lesser degree but be identified nonetheless, from the individual's DNA.

So, the discussion of the rights of individuals includes the individual in question and his or her immediate family.

Inappropriate use of information taken from the DNA could ruin or destroy an individual and his or her family, hence the extreme caution that we as parliamentarians and legislators must exercise in debating and passing this bill.

I proposed an amendment to limit the use made of genetic information gathered. The Liberal government autocratically refused to support the motion, unfortunately, probably because it came from a member of the opposition and a member of the Bloc moreover. I think that is a shame.

In the same vein, I proposed amendments to force the government to report on the application of the law. Once again, unfortunately, the government, for whom running the nation is a secret business, showed its contempt and refused to support us.

It refused, for instance, to allow the privacy commissioner to report every three years on the use to which the data in the bank were put. What are they afraid of? We were asking that a agency independent of government be allowed to examine the use to which these data were put, so that this bill would respect the private lives of individuals, of Canadians and Quebeckers.

Once again, I ask “What is the government afraid of? The privacy commissioner?” I find this most unfortunate.

I could go on for hours—and I know members would like me to, but I must disappoint them—about particular situations that we have tried to correct, but that the government refuses to tackle.

Knowing as we do the ideological narrowness of the Liberal Party and the tight leash on which the Prime Minister keeps his members, I was prepared to drop several, if not all, of the amendments I was sponsoring out of concern for integrity and public interest and in order to remove from the political arena a debate that is essentially apolitical in nature.

A bill such as Bill C-3, which we know is important, should not be used to engage in petty politics. I have always been open-minded and as non-partisan as possible, as apolitical as possible, but I must point out that this has not been the attitude of the Liberal government. I must, however, point out the open-mindedness of my colleague from the New Democratic Party and my colleague from the Conservative Party, with whom there were some good and frank discussions, despite our differing points of view.

As I said, I must admit I am disappointed with the government's general attitude in the way it handled this matter. The proposals of my opposition colleagues and myself met with constant refusals to even consider them. I am convinced that those who speak after me will refer to this as well.

I feel obliged to point out that the Solicitor General, the sponsor of this bill, appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on another matter, while we in this august Chamber were debating it. This was evidence of his disdain—the word may be a bit too strong—the lack of importance, at the very least, that he attaches to a chamber of representatives duly elected by the people. Once again, I must repeat how disappointed I am.

I am greatly disappointed because he was not there when the bill was being debated to hear what we had to say and let us hear what he had to say. While he was presenting another more or less important initiative in committee, we of the opposition parties could not be there. We had to choose, because no one can be in two places at the same time. We opted for the debate in this House, while unfortunately the Solicitor General did not, and I feel he too ought to have been here.

Of the 14 motions debated in the House, it is important to mention that only three were supported by a majority of members, and therefore received government approval. Not surprisingly, the amendments recommended in Motions Nos. 9 and 14, in Group No. 5, were passed, having been moved by the bill's sponsor himself, the solicitor general. The solicitor general introduced certain amendments and, wonder of wonders, his Liberal sheep followed.

I was very surprised, however, that Motion No. 13, which I myself moved, was agreed to. Admittedly, it would have been ill-advised for the government to refuse to remove data with respect to individuals who are acquitted. The opposition, the Bloc Quebecois anyway, was prepared for another no from the government. Statistically speaking, I presume that it is the exception that makes the rule.

We think the government could have done better and left aside the shocking partisan politics it has engaged in throughout study of this bill. That having been said, the Bloc Quebecois is open-minded, and we will support Bill C-3, even though we have certain reservations about its application.

In conclusion, we sincerely hope that the creation of this data bank gives police forces throughout the country all the tools they need to solve the unfortunately very large number of crimes being committed in our communities.

We still have certain concerns about the biased and inappropriate use of DNA samples and unnecessary analyses that will not be explicitly prohibited under the present legislation.

The Bloc Quebecois thinks it deserves credit for its constructive interventions and fervently hopes that the government will adopt a more conciliatory attitude when the bill, in this or another form, is again studied in the House, and also when other bills are introduced before the people's elected representatives. The legitimacy of parliament, the legitimacy of this House, and democracy itself hang in the balance.

Dna Identification Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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 Verchères, Varennes Tokamak project; the hon. member for Waterloo—Wellington, the Environment; the hon. member for Frontenac—Mégantic, BC Mine in Black Lake.

Dna Identification Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I must say it is an honour for me to rise in the House and participate in this very important debate on Bill C-3. It touches on an issue that I know the mover of the motion, the member for Crowfoot, holds very dear to his heart as a former law enforcement agent.

I know that other members of the committee, as mentioned by previous speakers, took an active part in the committee debate where we had a number of witnesses. It was certainly an exhibit of parliament at its best at the committee level where we had such a diverse discussion. There were a number of divergent opinions as was referred to by the previous speaker, the member from the Bloc. It was very important that the process did not grind to a halt. We had members moving amendments that unfortunately were not accepted by the government but the process itself did not bog down. We are now at a stage where this bill is on the verge of becoming law.

The sad and unfortunate situation that members often find themselves in is that they support the bill in principle and almost without exception, in its entirety but there are problems with it. There is a flaw, a fly in the ointment so to speak. That fly is a significant one. There is a significant opportunity with the passage of this bill to put into the hands of the law enforcement community the ability to fight crime in a very substantive way.

To use the minister's own terminology about prevention in the area of crime, this bill if it was amended in the way that the some members on the committee had suggested, would allow for the use of DNA at the time of charge. When I say at the time of charge, that in and of itself sets a certain standard, that standard being that reasonable and probable grounds had to exist for a person to be taken into custody and enough evidence had to exist to lay a criminal charge. If the DNA could be taken at that point in time, it could be used in a very important way to match the DNA crime scene bank that would have evidence from other crimes that had remained unsolved.

This is a golden opportunity. We talk about the use of technology and the speed at which technology is moving. This DNA data bank is not being used to its full potential in the manner in which this legislation has been drafted.

At the outset, I want to say that I do support the motion tabled by the hon. member for Crowfoot, the motion being in essence that the bill be returned to the justice committee for further debate. This arises from a situation where the government in its wisdom decided to seek legal opinions after the fact. That is, there was a legal opinion rendered by the Canadian Police Association. They sought the opinion of an eminent criminal lawyer, Mr. Danson, who after considering the situation and looking at the practicalities of the use of DNA offered the opinion to the committee that in fact if DNA was taken at the time of charge this would withstand a constitutional challenge. The timing I have to submit is very suspect here. The government chose after the committee had completed its deliberations to then seek the legal opinion of three very learned retired jurists who gave a contrary opinion.

I do not question for a minute the intent or the fact that the contrary opinion came back from these jurists. In fact it would surprise me if it happened any other way. We all know there are dissenting opinions constantly. Constantly there are juxtaposed positions taken by those involved in the criminal justice system. That is part of the process. That is part of the healthy debate and the adversarial nature of the practice of law.

But here we have again an opportunity to use this legislation to the full degree of the law. To be held back in essence is what is going on, to be held back by fear. I would not call it an irrational fear. I would not go so far as to say that this is not founded in common sense. But I do suggest that we cannot in this chamber and we cannot as members of the elected body be held back or be in constant fear that if we pass a piece of legislation here that it may in some court in some part of this great land be struck down by one judge or a panel of judges who feel that it is perhaps beyond the bounds of the Constitution.