House of Commons Hansard #73 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offenders.

Topics

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Justice
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition that is very important to my riding, Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

The subject of the petition was discussed in this House not long ago, and it will continue to be discussed in the coming weeks and months. I hope we will arrive at the right conclusion.

I am referring to the Wilbert Coffin affair. Mr. Coffin was convicted of a crime and hanged in the 1950s.

More than 2,000 people in my riding are presenting this new petition to the Minister of Justice that calls for clearing the name of Wilbert Coffin, a man from Gaspé.

Marriage
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table a petition today from my constituents and others from all over southern Alberta. They petition Parliament to reopen the issue of marriage and to amend the Marriage for Civil Purposes Act in order to promote and defend marriage as the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Automobile Industry
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I take pleasure in tabling a petition for a new automotive trade policy calling upon the government to cancel negotiations for a free trade agreement with Korea which would worsen the one-way flood of automotive products into the Canadian market. The petitioners also want the government to develop a new automotive trade policy that would require Korea and other offshore markets to purchase equivalent volumes of finished vehicles and auto parts from North America as a condition of their continued access to our market.

Rights of the Unborn
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition from my constituents of Okanagan—Shuswap. The petitioners are calling on Parliament to enact legislation recognizing unborn children as separate victims when they are injured or killed during the commission of an offence against their mothers allowing two charges to be laid against the offender instead of just one.

Replacement Workers
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to present petitions containing 2,500 signatures of people who support the anti-scab bill.

A historic vote was held last Wednesday on the issue. The anti-scab legislation was passed at second reading.

Petitions continue to flood in. Today, I can add another 2,500 signatures of workers from across Quebec and Canada.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

October 31st, 2006 / 11:55 a.m.

South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale
B.C.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

It seems to me I remember interrupting the Minister of Justice when he had 11 minutes remaining in his speech. We look forward to hearing the remainder now.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I was just getting to the highlights of my speech and I am glad you are back to hear the rest of it.

I was talking about the context of the development of the dangerous offender legislation in reaction to the Johnson situation, whereby many of the applications were no longer undertaken by the crown because of the difficulties created by the Supreme Court of Canada. I would like to outline the changes that are contained in this bill.

First, we have addressed what we believe to be problems of consistency across jurisdictions. Specifically, we do not believe that crowns across Canada are always seeking dangerous offender designations whenever appropriate. The legislation requires crown attorneys to make a declaration to the court in certain situations of whether they have considered and intend to pursue a dangerous offender designation. This is found in the new proposed section 752.01.

This operates in reference to the offence list defined in the amended section 752 referred to as the designated offence list. I would note that the designated offence list includes all of the offences listed in the primary offence list, plus all of the other serious violent personal offences listed in the Criminal Code.

Under new section 752.01, once an individual has been sentenced for an offence, which in the opinion of the prosecutor is a serious personal injury offence as currently defined in section 752 of the code, the crown is directed to consider whether the individual has at least two prior convictions of a designated violent or sexual offence that received a sentence of at least two years.

This provision will ensure the crown will more consistently consider whether it should pursue a dangerous offender designation. While this is not intended in any way to bind either the court or the offender as to the sentence that will actually be pursued, it is nonetheless important to encourage greater diligence in sentencing repeat violent and sexual offenders.

The next proposed amendment is one that has received a great deal of attention, the new so-called reverse onus provision. The first thing to remember is that the dangerous offender hearing occurs after a conviction. We are not dealing with an innocent person. We are dealing with a convicted criminal, a criminal who has been convicted of a very serious offence.

In some contexts there are automatic prison sentences. For example, in the case of certain firearms offences and murder they are automatic. There is no hearing other than an automatic imposition of at least the minimum.

In this particular case, the offender will be presumed innocent until the trial judge makes a finding of guilt. After that the crown makes the choice whether to proceed with a dangerous offender designation. Post-Johnson, we believe that in many cases individuals who are at real risk to commit further violent sexual offences are escaping a dangerous offender designation. This amendment is designed to address this situation.

As it currently stands, the crown prosecutor must apply to the court before a dangerous offender hearing can proceed and the court will order the hearing based on whether the individual has in fact been convicted of a serious personal injury offence, that is the smaller list of serious offences which are defined in section 752, and whether there is a reasonable likelihood that the individual will be found to be a dangerous offender. We are not changing that process. The crown retains the full discretion as to whether or not a dangerous offender application should be brought forward.

The provincial attorney general must still file his or her consent in writing before the application can proceed to the next step. The judge must still order a psychiatric assessment before the hearing can proceed. The existing process continues to apply to any situation where the prosecutor is of the view that a dangerous offender application is merited.

Once the hearing is under way, the new reverse onus provision will only take effect if the following prerequisites are met: first, the crown has to satisfy the court that there are two prior convictions from a new list of 12 serious sexual or violent primary designated offences in section 752; second, each of the previous convictions must have carried at least a two year sentence; third, the court must be satisfied that the current offence for which the offender has been found guilty, the predicate offence, must also be one of the primary offences; and finally, the court must be satisfied that the predicate offence would otherwise merit at least a two year sentence.

If these prerequisite conditions are proven, then the crown is presumed to have satisfied the court that the offender meets the prerequisites of a dangerous offender designation under section 753(1). The offender is then given the opportunity to rebut this presumption on a balance of probabilities.

I note that many individuals have suggested that this provision does not respect the charter of rights. I must respond that those individuals have failed to fully consider the impact not only of this provision, but of the following amendment in proposed section 753(1.2)

In the first place, I emphasize that the list of qualifying offences that trigger the reverse onus, the primary offences, is very narrow and carefully tailored. Again, it is a list of 12 offences. I note that every one of those offences carries at least a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. These are all very serious offences.

In our analysis we have determined that all of these offences commonly arise as a predicate offence and dangerous offender designations. Of the current 360 dangerous offenders, for example, about 80% had a predicate offence of one of the seven listed sexual offences from the primary list. For the remaining dangerous offenders, the vast majority were convicted of one of the remaining five offences on the primary list. The list was deliberately tailored to effect this reality.

We constructed the list to make sure that the very nature of each offence would satisfy the threshold criteria of a serious personal injury offence. We also avoided offences such as manslaughter and impaired driving causing death that, while on their face are serious, do not by their nature require the same intent to commit serious harm. Further, I emphasize that for the reverse onus to apply, each previous conviction must have received a sentence of at least two years which signals that the offence was serious. As an additional criteria the judge must be satisfied that the current offence would also be eligible for at least a two year penitentiary sentence.

We believe that if an offender has met all of these criteria, it is reasonable to presume that the person meets the prerequisites of a dangerous offender designation. There is a clear and rational connection between the triggering criteria and a finding that the individual is a dangerous offender. This justifies the presumption contained in this legislation. Based upon this analysis, I am firmly convinced that these provisions will withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Again I point out that the reverse onus is fully rebuttable by the offender. I note that in all dangerous offender proceedings the defendant has access to legal aid if counsel cannot be afforded, and this allows access to independent expert psychiatric witnesses for the defence. If such expert witnesses are unable to place evidence countering the presumption, then the offender clearly should be deemed to fully meet the criteria of the dangerous offender designation.

I must point out that this does not end the extent of the constitutional protection built into the proposal. I want to emphasize that in every single case, even if the offender fails to satisfy the court that he or she does not meet the dangerousness criteria, the court still retains full discretion to refuse the dangerous offender indeterminate sentence.

This bill enshrines the discretion of the court to refuse to make the dangerous offender designation. We are making it clear that consistent with the principle laid out in Johnson, the sentencing judge may not impose an indeterminate sentence unless the court is satisfied that there is no lesser sentence available which can adequately protect the public.

We are acknowledging and embracing the need for the courts to retain their ultimate discretion in this matter and that is fully consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada decisions in the Johnson and Lyons cases.

Given the narrow tailoring of the primary offence list and given the respect, now codified--it is important to mention that this is now codified--for the discretion of the judge to impose a fit sentence, I can stand before the House today and state with full confidence that I believe the legislation will withstand constitutional challenges. The ultimate judicial discretion is not touched. It is there and is now entrenched in the legislation.

In closing, I would remind the House that there is a long list of innocent people that have fallen to individuals with lengthy violent criminal records, Christopher Stephenson, Jonathan Wamback and Frank Groves to name a few. They are names that should haunt us until we as a nation summon the courage to take action and enact tougher legislation against dangerous offenders. How many more children are we prepared to sacrifice? How many more victims are we prepared to sacrifice? When will we join with the majority of Canadians who say enough is enough.

Our choice is simple: stand by and do nothing as more people fall victim to these predators, or send a message that Canadians have had enough.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is certainly a consensus that this is an important bill for Canadians.

The minister has asked the House for prompt consideration of Bill C-27. I understand that the steering committee of the justice committee has tried to calendar its work. The steering committee has found that there is a substantial backlog within the justice committee, to the extent that it may very well take the committee until the fall of next year before it can get through all the work that is necessary on the large number of bills that have been sent to the committee after passage at second reading.

If the minister is serious about this bill going through all stages of the legislative process, what steps is he prepared to take to ensure there is sufficient time for this bill to be considered by Parliament?