House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 17th, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

moved that Bill C-293, an act to amend the Criminal Code (theft of a motor vehicle), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is an exciting day for me in being able to have this debate on Bill C-293. I would like to thank my colleague from Wild Rose, Alberta, a good friend and a good Canadian. What we want to do is provide protection for Canadians. That is what this bill would do. The purpose of the bill is to provide direction to the courts regarding sentencing for the offence of theft of a motor vehicle.

Bill C-293 would amend the Criminal Code to provide for minimum sentencing and for fines and/or imprisonment for every person convicted of theft of a motor vehicle a first, second and subsequent time.

The bill provides for minimum sentencing whether the offence is prosecuted by indictment or punishable by summary conviction. The sentence for a first conviction would be three months of incarceration or a $1,000 fine or both. The sentence for a second conviction would be a minimum sentence of six months' incarceration or a $5,000 fine or both. All subsequent convictions would have a minimum sentence of one year of incarceration or a fine of $10,000 or both.

Auto crime is a big problem in Canada and in fact in North America. This year, like last, approximately 200,000 vehicles will be stolen, at a cost of $1 billion to Canadians. That is unacceptable.

A study that came out a year ago, and which was consistent with previous studies, indicated that the typical auto thief is not somebody out joyriding. Rather, he is a 27 year old male, addicted to drugs, who has 10 prior criminal convictions, not charges but convictions, and is stealing a vehicle to commit another crime.

These people are dangerous. There are tragic stories that go along with this and they are not about just the theft of a vehicle. As I said, the people stealing these vehicles are dangerous. Thirty-five people will die this year due to auto thieves driving stolen vehicles. I have some sad stories to share with the House to give us some examples of what is happening out there.

A couple of months ago in Maple Ridge, a driver who dragged a gas station attendant seven kilometres to his death under a stolen vehicle confessed to a friend that he had killed the man. Said a friend, “Somebody jumped in front of him and he kept going, he ran over him...he could hear the guy screaming under the car”. A 16 year old Maple Ridge youth and a 15 year old Pitt Meadows youth were arrested regarding this.

Grant DePatie died on the graveyard shift trying to prevent this auto thief from leaving without paying for gas worth $12.30. That young man stole the vehicle, then went to a gas station and stole some gas. The story goes on: “A trail of blood and flesh led from near the Maple Ridge gas station to the spot where DePatie's body was found”.

What kind of person could do that? He must have had absolutely no conscience. Whoever did that needs to be put away. That happened just a couple of months ago in Maple Ridge.

I have another tragic story, this one about a youth pastor who was killed by an auto thief in Richmond, British Columbia. The driver of the stolen SUV involved in the fatal accident in Richmond had an extensive criminal record, according to court records. Joseph Chan, a 32 year old Coquitlam man, was killed. He was a musician, a gifted pianist, and a pastor to young people.

Auto theft is a serious problem. The police, insurance companies and governments have been working on solutions. Different organizations and task forces look at the three Es, enforcement, education and engineering, to try to solve problems like this.

On education, the insurance companies have been trying to educate people on how to protect their vehicles and keep them from being stolen. They work with the police. They have town hall meetings. Through community policing offices across the country, they hand out brochures. Insurance offices hand out brochures when people renew their insurance policies. The brochures tell people how to protect themselves from auto theft.

One way we can protect ourselves is through engineering. The companies encourage people to use an immobilizer, an electronic device that makes it very difficult to steal a vehicle. It can be installed after market if the vehicle does not have it, but about 65% of the new vehicles come with an immobilizer as standard equipment. As of 2007, it will be standard equipment. That is good news.

We have looked at education and engineering. Now let us look at the enforcement aspect. We need to have enforcement to solve the problem. We are finding that people are trying to protect themselves from auto theft. They do not want to have their vehicle stolen. When they go out to get their car in the morning to go to a doctor's appointment or take their kids to school or go to work, that car should be there. It is their car and they have locked it up, but someone has stolen that vehicle and is using it for another crime, putting our communities at risk.

We have all kinds of groups and programs trying to stop this. Another program I forgot to mention until now is the bait car program. The police set up specially equipped cars in areas where they know a lot of cars are being stolen, mostly in urban areas. When people go to sleep at night they expect their car to be there in the morning, so the police are putting out these bait cars. The police are doing what they can to stop this, including, as I mentioned, education and engineering.

The enforcement component is that the police are trying to catch them and a lot of them are being caught, but the frustrating part is that when they are caught, taken to jail and found guilty, they commonly get probation. They are told to keep the peace and not to steal any more cars.

If they get caught a second time, it is breach of probation. What are they going to get for breach of probation? They are going to get probation. These people are released back into the community to steal another car. They get caught again. They get probation for breach of probation and now this is the third time. Let us say that this time they were involved in a crash and may have killed or seriously injured someone. What do they get? They get probation for breaching their probation.

This is unacceptable. People are dying. People are being injured. There is a criminal element, a small group of people, creating the problem.

What do we need? We need to have direction from the House to the courts that this is a serious problem, not just a property offence. It is a very serious offence that is taking valuable and wonderful Canadian lives, leaving in its wake people who are hurting and lives that are destroyed. As a Parliament, we need to take on our responsibility and give direction to the courts.

How do we do that? We need deterrents. The courts also need direction. As for probation for stealing cars time after time, people charged with the theft of a motor vehicle have gone to court, come out and got into a car, which the police then check. Sure enough, they have come to court in a stolen vehicle. This is very common. They laugh at us.

We need to get tough. We need to give direction to the courts that this is a serious matter. Canadians need to be protected. We need to have minimum sentencing. I do acknowledge that we have to honour and respect the courts, but they need direction and they need to be informed about how serious this problem is.

A year ago, Justice Wally Opal was one of the panellists at an auto crime forum. He shared with us that these people had drug addictions and he had no place to send them. He could not send them to detox and rehab because those facilities were not available. He could not send them to jail because the federal government had instructed the courts not to send these types of people to jail. He had no other choice but to release them back into the community. That needs to change. We need to give the direction to the courts, not Liberal soft on crime direction but strong direction to support the safety of our communities that there has to be a consequence.

I want to give the courts the discretion for minimizing sentencing. Minimum sentencing is a fine or a jail sentence or both on the first offence. We need to look at detox and rehab. I support that. If people have drug addictions which fuels auto crime and break and enters into homes, then they need to deal with their addiction. Those types of facilities and options have to be available to the courts. If people continue living the lifestyle of stealing from people's homes, seriously injuring them and baiting police officers into high speed chases, there has to be a consequence. A second offence has more severe consequences.

Canadians are counting on the government to protect them. They are doing everything they can to protect their vehicles. They lock them in safe areas, they remove valuables from their vehicles and they even have immobilizers. If their vehicles are stolen, we need to provide direction to the courts.

I am flexible. I have met with many of the members to get input. A good compromise and a good step in the right direction is that there will be a consequence and it is progressive. The more times a person steals a car, the more serious the offence. Canadians want that. For a first offence, the sentence would be three months, or a $1,000 fine or both. For a second offence, it would be six months, or a $5,000 fine or both. All subsequent convictions would be a minimum of one year, or a $10,000 fine or both.

When I have made presentations in the community, I ask people if they have been victims of auto theft. At least half the people have had it happen either to them personally or to one of their family members. It is all too common. We need to provide a deterrent and I believe Bill C-293 will provide that direction and deterrent.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West
Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I do not think there is any doubt everyone agrees that car theft is a problem that needs to be addressed.

The hon. member talks about messaging and I think it is very important that messaging exist. Right now theft over $5,000 carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. What sort of messaging is being sent when his conviction by indictment would have a maximum penalty of five years, in other words, cutting the maximum penalty in half?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, when people steal cars, they do not look at the value of the car. They do not steal a car because they think it is nice and it has shiny wheels. They look through neighbourhoods or shopping centres for cars that are easy to steal. They do not look at the value of the vehicle. We need to take this seriously. We need to protect Canadians.

The member asked about whether minimum sentencing was adequate and what was the messaging. The messaging we need to have is it will not be tolerated any more. We have a reputation of being soft on crime. Whether it is drugs, auto theft, breaking into homes or rape, we have a reputation of being soft on crime and we need to provide minimum sentencing.

The hon. member I think has interpreted what I have said as meaning this is what the sentence should be. That is not what I said. I am saying that probation is not an adequate minimum. It is not protecting Canadians. A repeat offender needs to be locked up for the protection of our communities. The message needs to be that there will be a price to pay for breaking into somebody's home, or stealing a car or causing havoc in our communities. Minimum sentencing means it could be more.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I must say it will be my pleasure to speak later this evening in support of this private member's bill. I just want to say one thing and I will add to it when I make my presentation later on.

I come from Saskatchewan. My home town is Regina Beach. I used to live in Regina. Regina is currently, and has been for several years, the stolen car capital of Canada. The per capita car theft in Regina is higher than any other major centre in Canada, so I am very familiar with the destruction and the problems with which car theft is associated in the community.

I applaud the member for bringing forward the bill. One thing we have seen, and it has been demonstrated quite clearly in Saskatchewan, is that when possible, the Saskatchewan government insurance is able to add a deterrent on to the driver's licence of any car thieves. In some cases and some cases only, the provincial government insurance is able to put the cost of the victim's deductible on to the driver's licence of the perpetrator. It has been demonstrated that we have driven down car thefts in Regina by that very small deterrent. The member is talking about a far larger deterrent and I am here to illustrate that in Saskatchewan, deterrents work.

I would applaud the member for bringing the bill forward. I do not really have a question, it is a comment that I think this is the right approach. Does the member want to respond to that?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I believe deterrents work.

My son had his car broken into. The person was caught, but there was no consequence other than for him to keep the peace. The person got probation, which is a typical sentencing. However, my son had to pay $100 deductible. He was in his twenties at the time and did not have a lot of money. He was going to college, but he had to pay the $100. Why did the auto thief who broke into his car and stole his stuff not have to pay the deductible?

I agree there has to be a consequence, and right now there is not.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West
Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak today to Bill C-293, an act to amend the Criminal Code, theft of a motor vehicle, introduced by the hon. member for Langley.

In summary, Bill C-293 would amend the Criminal Code to provide that everyone who commits theft of a motor vehicle is liable to a mandatory minimum penalty on the first offence of $1,000, or imprisonment for three months or both. On the second offence the minimum penalties would be raised to $5,000 as a fine, or imprisonment for six months or both. On subsequent offences, the offender would be liable to a minimum punishment of a $10,000 fine, or imprisonment of one year or both.

Bill C-293 would also provide that where the offence is prosecuted by way of indictment, there would be a five year maximum term of imprisonment and where the offence is prosecuted by way of summary conviction, there would be a two year maximum term of imprisonment.

I would agree with my hon. colleague that auto theft is a serious issue for all Canadians. Having said that, I am not convinced that the manner in which it is addressed in Bill C-293 is the best way to deal with the problem. I therefore cannot support the bill in its present form.

To begin with, there are numerous offences in the Criminal Code to address theft of a motor vehicle. These offences include the general theft and fraud provisions carrying a maximum jail term of 10 and 14 years respectively on indictment. Furthermore, offenders who commit what is commonly known as joyriding may be charged with the offence of taking a motor vehicle without consent. This offence carries a maximum term of six months imprisonment, or a fine of $2,000 or both.

Additionally, a person in possession of a stolen motor vehicle may be charged with possession of stolen property as a crime. Where the value of the motor vehicle exceeds $5,000, the maximum offence, as I just mentioned earlier in a question, is a penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.

All too often, some offenders take it upon themselves to flee from law enforcement in stolen vehicles, often at very high rates of speed. If this occurs and no one is injured, the offender may be charged with the offence of flight from a peace officer and this offence carries a maximum term of five years of imprisonment. Where flight results in a death, then the offender is criminally liable to a term of life imprisonment for this terrible crime. This type of behaviour cannot be tolerated and I believe that the available sentence for this crime delivers a strong message.

In some motor vehicle thefts, the offender may cause significant danger to the public through the manner in which they drive the stolen vehicle. In this regard, if dangerous operation of a motor vehicle occurs, the Criminal Code provides that where a person is injured, the offender is liable to 10 years' imprisonment. Further, if this dangerous operation results in a death, then the offender would be liable to a maximum jail term of 14 years.

Similarly, if the circumstances surrounding the theft result in criminal negligence causing death, those convicted are subject to a penalty of life imprisonment, the most serious sentence in the Criminal Code.

We must also recognize that the theft of automobiles is sometimes undertaken in a systematic manner by organized crime. In this regard the Criminal Code provides a number of additional tools that can apply when auto theft is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization. These additional tools provide for the possibility of consecutive sentencing and reduced parole eligibility.

Therefore, it is clear there are numerous offences covering the range of behaviour, each carrying significant penalties including life imprisonment, which can be used to tackle the incidents of motor vehicle theft in Canada.

I would now like to outline the policy deficiencies which, in my view, are present in Bill C-293. This private member's bill provides for mandatory minimum sentences for first, second and subsequent offences.

As we are well aware, Canada uses mandatory minimum sentences with restraint, preferring an individualized sentencing approach that gives the court the discretion to fashion a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the conduct of the offender, considering also any aggravating or mitigating factors.

Therefore, the use of mandatory minimum sentences, as found in Bill C-293, could be contrary to the established Canadian sentencing principles, such as proportionality and restraint in the use of imprisonment. In addition to mandatory minimum penalties, Bill C-293 would provide for a maximum term of imprisonment of two years when the offence is prosecuted by way of summary conviction.

Currently, the highest maximum penalty for a summary conviction offence under the Criminal Code is 18 months imprisonment, which is usually for offences involving sexual assault and the infliction of bodily harm.

Therefore, a two year maximum for the theft of a motor vehicle would provide this offence with the highest summary conviction penalty in the Criminal Code and would represent a stark departure from the current sentencing regime in Canadian criminal law. Furthermore, Bill C-293 would also reduce the maximum punishment available for someone who commits motor vehicle theft.

The most frequent charge in vehicle theft cases is theft over $5,000. The punishment for this offence is up to 10 years imprisonment on indictment. Under Bill C-293, a person committing a theft of a motor vehicle would only be liable to a maximum of five years imprisonment.

In other words, there is a serious inconsistency here in saying that auto theft is such a serious offence that it requires the use of mandatory minimum penalties but, at the same time, Bill C-293 would cut the maximum term of imprisonment for its commission in half.

As I have indicated at the outset of my remarks, I would agree with the hon. member for Langley that theft of vehicles is a serious issue. Auto theft appears, at first blush, to be single faceted, although further analysis would show that the problem is quite complex. It comprises a multitude of crimes and underlying motives, including the involvement of members of criminal organizations.

To this end, it is important that we ensure our laws are being used to their fullest potential in addressing the criminal behaviour and whether in fact there are gaps in existing legislation which need to be filled.

In this regard, in January, at the meeting of the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice, ministers discussed motor vehicle theft and the need to ensure that appropriate penalties are in place to target those who steal vehicles and recklessly threaten the lives of others.

As a result of this meeting, all ministers agreed to have their officials collectively study motor vehicle theft to determine whether a separate indictable offence is needed and whether increased penalties would be appropriate to reflect the seriousness of the crime.

Provincial involvement in the assessment and crafting the tools to tackle this form of crime is very important. We should ensure that this federal, provincial and territorial process is allowed sufficient opportunity to properly consider the underlying issue.

Finally, education, community programming and crime prevention should also play an essential role in combating the incidence of motor vehicle theft. These tools are an important element in fully responding to the criminal behaviour in Canada.

We agree with the hon. member that this is a very important matter that needs to be debated and discussed. Hopefully, through the federal, provincial and territorial ministers, and debate in this House, we will find what is necessary to better assist us in dealing with this problem of motor vehicle theft. However, today I believe that the hon. member's bill, although well-intentioned, does not meet that threshold.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, rather like the speaker before me, the member for Northumberland—Quinte West, I have a hard time linking the aim of this bill and the methods it employs. I do not know the member for Langley's experience in criminal law, but he made a number of surprising statements.

First, the fine to be imposed for an initial offence is $1,000 or three months in prison, but not both. In the case of a second offence, the fine is $5,000 and for a third, it is $10,000. Is it really such a good idea to tell the judge the matter is to be resolved by fines?

I do not know who prepared that composite sketch of a car thief. I have had 27 years in the practice of criminal law, and I can say that the individuals involved in car theft vary considerably. They can be organized groups that get hold of cars, dismantle them and sell the parts. Then there is a real problem that must be dealt with in Montreal, Vancouver and near the major ports, where individuals slip luxury cars quickly into containers and sell them outside the country. The problem is many-faceted. There are also many young people who steal cars, young men, in particular. Men and women are equal, but young men are more attracted or fascinated by cars and are keen to drive them. That is another motivation.

What message is sent with the establishment of minimum fines and the reduction of the maximum sentence? That is what the bill does. Today, there are few cars costing less than $5,000. The maximum sentence for stealing a car worth over $5,000 is 10 years.

Must we explain to the hon. member the reasoning used by the appeal courts on the severity of crimes? Appeal courts have always held that this was the legislator's responsibility and the legislator's decision is based on the maximum sentence allocated to a specific type of crime. The hon. member says this is a serious crime, but wants to decrease the maximum sentence. So he sends the message to the legislator that it is only half as serious. I am absolutely certain that is not his intent, but that is objectively what he is doing within the current sentencing philosophy in Canada.

He then seems to move on to some magical thinking. He says that we are very soft in Canada. How can he say such a thing? What would give him an idea of the severity with which we impose sentences in Canada? If I were to give the number of people imprisoned in Canada, compared to our total population, and compared that to the ratio in other countries, would that give a good idea of how harsh our country is compared to others?

I would like you to know that, according to the most recent statistics, Canada is not one of the harshest countries in the world. We have 101 people in prison per 100,000 population. That is higher than the figure for the EU, which is 87, and France, 77. Do we really feel less safe if we are in France? There is one other possible question: do we really feel safer in the U.S. than in Canada? Their figure is 689 per 100,000 population. They have even managed to beat out Russia, where there are 673 people in prison per 100,000 population.

Canadians feel less secure in the United States. They are mistaken, except on one point. The fact is that the rate of homicides in the United States is significantly higher than it is in Canada. In my opinion, it is due much more to arms control—which we had already in part and now have completely—than to incarceration.

In addition, one of the countries where people are safer and where fewer cars are stolen is Japan. There, 50 people per 100,000 inhabitants are in jail, therefore, half of Canada's figure.

I think these are false impressions, but I understand them. Over the years, I have worked in criminal law as a crown prosecutor and defence counsel. I know full well that, fundamentally, the public is very badly informed about crime. For example, we all have the impression that crime is on the rise, generally. According to the statistics, however, it is decreasing.

I wanted to speak of another criterion, that of the minimum sentence which will reduce offences. Here again, if I mentioned a minimum of seven years' imprisonment, would you not consider this a significant minimum with the potential to discourage people from doing the illegal act it sanctions? Consider that, when I first started practising law, I had never heard of marijuana. It was not mentioned. That gives you an idea of my age. I was called to the bar in 1966. I learned about marijuana in the course of my duties as a lawyer. By the end of the 1960s, beginning of the 1970s, marijuana had spread in Canada. Still, no plant grown in Canada was fit to be consumed. So everything came from outside the country. The minimum sentence for importing marijuana was seven years.

First, people are not aware there are minimum sentences. Even I, a criminal lawyer, would have trouble naming the 30-odd minimum sentences in the Criminal Code. So, people are not aware of them. Crimes are committed for completely different motives. Reasonable people are discouraged by harsh legislation, but they are rarely if ever the ones committing crimes. People would commit such crimes if there were no laws at all. Reasonable people are not the ones committing crimes. Crimes are impulsive actions committed by certain segments of the population.

One of these days, I will tell the House about the inquiries I conducted as the Quebec minister of public safety and responsible for Quebec prisons. These inquiries focussed on the kind of people in prison. Their past is a major factor. So, it is a fantasy to believe that minimum sentences work.

The other example that should convince the House is the death penalty. This is the most radical sentence there is, right? It was the penalty for murder. Since Canada abolished the death penalty, has the homicide rate increased? No, it has decreased. So there are other factors involved.

My final example is appropriate, because it goes in the other direction. There are mandatory minimum sentences for repeat drinking-and-driving offences. These minimum sentences have not changed in 15 years. The legislation has not been tightened. Yet, in 15 years, we have made remarkable progress in lowering the number of drinking-and-driving offences. How? Through increased enforcement, in particular, and education.

Teenagers are a good example. When they have a party, they are responsible enough to choose a designated driver. When I was a teenager, this was unheard of. So education and other means have reduced the number of offences.

The member raised an important issue. Auto theft is not important solely when it is a crime committed by young people, but also when it is also committed by organized crime. However, as the member for Northumberland—Quinte West explained so clearly, there are numerous sentences prescribed for the terrible and very serious cases he described involving fatal hit-and-runs.

This is a good bill, but these are terrible ways to attack the problem.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I can only repeat what the Bloc member said, but I will do so in my own words.

I was quite impressed with his speech. I must admit I think he stole almost all of the points I wanted to make. Perhaps what I will do is make them in the other official language.

I want to recognize the spirit behind the legislation that has come from the member for Langley. I do not agree with the results he is attempting to achieve because I do not think they are going to be successful. He certainly is well motivated in trying to deal with the issue of auto theft in the country. As we heard from the parliamentary secretary, and I think as we all recognize, it is a serious issue and one that needs additional attention which obviously is to some degree under way by the attention the attorneys general from the provinces and the federal government are giving it.

As a standard position, the NDP is not in favour of minimum sentences. I want to make a few comments on that before I get to the specifics of the bill. The essential reason we are opposed to minimum sentences is that they do not work. My colleague from the Bloc pointed out a number of instances. Perhaps I am a bit more sensitive to this coming from Windsor. We can compare the crime rate in Windsor to that in Detroit, a major metropolitan centre in the United States, in terms of the sentencing principles and practices to deal with criminal offences in Windsor, and Ontario and the country more generally, and the practices in Michigan.

Our crime rate is dramatically lower than the crime rate in the United States. Again we see it even more so when we compare Windsor as a mid-size city to a major metropolitan area. Michigan's criminal statutes have a number of minimum sentencing provisions. It has clearly not deterred the crime rate there. It has really had no impact.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Dewdney—Alouette, BC

No, it may be higher.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I am hearing from the opposition Conservative Party that it would be higher.

The reality is that they have gone to a number of provisions and the crime rate has remained steady. The three strikes law was supposed to be a deterrent. The crime rate in California has not declined and in a number of cases where the three strikes law was applicable, the crime rate actually went up. That cannot be argued.

If we look to the European experience in particular, more progressive approaches have been taken to deal with criminal behaviour. The Europeans have been able to drive their crime rate down as we have in this country.

It was interesting to listen to the member for Langley because he kept emphasizing that we have a serious crime problem. No one will deny that we have crime in this country but the absolute reality by any measure is that our crime rates are going down in every single area in the country. Whatever the crime, the statistics show that over the last two decades our crime rates have declined in every single area, whether it be violent crime or property crime. Every single rate has gone down.

We could pick isolated areas in the country. We could go into the core areas of some of our major cities and say the rates have gone up, and they have, but across the country as a whole in every single area the crime rates have declined. The reason they have declined has absolutely nothing to do with sentencing. I know our judges do not like hearing that but that is the reality. They have gone down because we have dealt with them at a societal level.

We have moved a strong police force in. Any time I have studied anything historically around crime rates, I have come away absolutely convinced that we lower the crime rate when we convince a person who has a criminal intent that he or she is going to get caught.

Since being elected, I have had the opportunity to do some travelling. Recently I was in Sri Lanka and I asked about the crime rate there. I was doing a comparison with the crime rate in Johannesburg with regard to car jacking. I spoke to police officers who had the facts in front of them, as opposed to what we usually get from the Conservative Party with regard to crime rates.

In the capital city of Sri Lanka, which is a large city of several million people, there is minimum car jackings as opposed to in Johannesburg where it is a major problem. When we look at the comparisons, the numbers are phenomenally different, multiples of hundreds of percentage points different. Distinguishing between the two, both cities had come out of some really violent history in terms of civil war and insurrection within both countries and the only answer for the difference is the quality of the police forces in those cities.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Are you criticizing our police?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, if the member would pay some attention to the facts, he might understand my argument.

The Johannesburg police force is just rebuilding itself. In Colombo the police force has remained reasonably intact, reasonably effective, so we do not see any corresponding levels in crime increase between those two. Colombo has it under control; Johannesburg is still trying to build its police force so it can do it.

The key is prevention and getting the message out. If we want to get a message out from government, from authority, it is that if a person commits a crime, he or she will get caught.

It was interesting to listen to the member for Langley cite some of the statistics from the insurance bureau of the stereotypical individual who commits a crime: 27 years of age, usually with some significant addiction, whether it is alcohol or drugs. A minimum fine, a minimum court time means absolutely nothing to that criminal. That person will not give one iota of thought to whether he or she will get a $1,000 fine, as the bill proposes, three months in jail or some other penalty. It will not even cross that person's mind.

If we were really serious about dealing with this issue, we would be funding our police forces so that they had enough officers on the street to deal with this type of crime.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Get rid of the gun registry and they might be able to do it.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, if the hon. member studied the facts with regard to the gun registry, he would realize that a good deal of money is going directly to police forces across the country at the provincial level. Those are facts that the Conservative Party does not wish to address.

The simplistic approach to what is a complex problem will not be resolved by using minimum sentences. It will be resolved by having police forces on our streets to deal with it, to convince that person who is addicted to drugs that he cannot do it because he will get caught. There is a police officer on that corner and if the person attempts to break in and steal that car, he will get caught because there is a police officer there to stop him.

There was not much mention of this from the member for Langley, but we know there are organized crime syndicates. The minimum penalty will not deter those criminals at all.

I have several more points I would like to make, but having to deal with the questions and heckling from the other side, I have not been able to cover all of them in the time allotted to me.

In summary, minimum sentences do not work and they will not work in the particular case set out in the bill.