Debates of Oct. 4th, 2006
House of Commons Hansard #59 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was criminal.
- Question Period
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- An Act to amend certain acts in relation to DNA Identification
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- Criminal Code
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- Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act
- Criminal Code
- Trent-Severn Waterway
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, I do not take the same position as the member across the way. For example, I support the mandatory revocation of driver's licences for impaired driving for those who kill on our roads. I know the member may not support that but I believe the majority of members in the House do.
This type of attitude that parliamentarians cannot send out messages in our legislation setting certain floors is a completely irresponsible attitude. We would not be responding to the demands of our constituents.
When I look at the calls by people like MADD Canada, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, it calls for mandatory licence prohibitions and the elimination of conditional sentences for those who kill on our highways. The member across the way may not have concerns about those kinds of killings but killings on highways, for example, are one of the leading criminal causes of deaths. The member may not be concerned about that but I am.
I have worked long and hard in the justice system to bring about administrative licence suspensions roadside and the administration seizure of motor vehicles for those who drink and drive.
I was very disappointed to see the member stand in the House and say that we should just open this up and remove mandatory sentences, such as licence prohibitions, fines or conditional sentences.
I do not know whether the member is a lawyer but he sounds like a lawyer who is more interested in representing the interests of the accused. Our government is interested in rebalancing the system to ensure that victims have a voice in our country's legal system. This bill, in that respect, reflects that and I am proud of the steps our government has taken.
I would discourage the member from making those kinds of irresponsible statements about what Parliament should be doing in respect of helping victims.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, in a few minutes I will have the opportunity to deliver my speech informing the House that the Bloc Québécois is favourably disposed towards this bill. I am, however, going to take advantage of the minister’s speech to try and get a few clarifications. We know that the minister is an extremely enterprising man, who in a way practises judicial activism. At present, six bills are under consideration, and there is a rumour, which I would be inclined to believe has some foundation, to the effect that six other bills will be tabled.
I would like the minister to tell us, in order, his government’s priorities. Does he hope to begin with the passing of Bill C-9? Is it Bill C-10, followed by the bill respecting age of consent? Is it the one dealing with DNA data banks?
Soon there will be more bills than the minister has teeth. It is not easy to figure out what the government’s priorities are. Each bill will be discussed in committee and in the House. Some are good, others less so, but overall, I would say that the output is fairly discouraging.
Can the minister, for each of the bills and in numerical order, tell us his government’s priorities? I am sure that he does this in consultation with the leader.
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, I must thank the member for Hochelaga for his diligent work on the justice committee. It is certainly a pleasure to have him on the justice committee to ensure that a different perspective is brought to the administration of justice. He and I may not agree in every respect but I respect his integrity.
In respect of the issues regarding the priorities, we have attempted to list bills in the priority that we would like to see them passed.
I know that some of the bills are more difficult. Bill C-9 has raised a number of issues. I have made comments in front of committee on that issue. We know that the bill regarding judges' pay is before the committee. I know there are many bills and much work to be done by the justice committee. We have issues, such as the review of the DNA legislation, a task that should have been done a couple of years ago but was not.
While I may have my own priorities and this government may have its own priorities that are reflected in the way that we have introduced legislation, I have full confidence in the member and the other members of the justice committee to understand the priorities of Canadians and to respond accordingly. I would rely on his wise judgment in that respect.
Denise Savoie Victoria, BC
Mr. Speaker, the rights of accused persons to a trial in their own language—, in French or in English, have certainly evolved over the years. This has not always been the case. I remember a few years ago some young francophones who were charged and tried in English in Vancouver, and the only services they had were those of a single interpreter. So this is considerable progress and this bill seems to settle some technical issues.
In my opinion, the minister should acknowledge that it is often thanks to court challenges that francophones have succeeded in winning their case in many of these language issues. As for me, since I am from Manitoba, I know that court challenges have helped francophones to maintain their cultural identity.
I would ask the minister to please acknowledge the importance of court challenges for Canadians.
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am no stranger to that litigation in Manitoba and I am no stranger to the issue of francophone language rights. I have been a strong defender in Manitoba of francophone language rights. Indeed, I represent a riding that probably has the highest number of francophones in any rural riding in western Canada. I believe my riding is second only to Saint Boniface in terms of the percentage of francophones.
I understand the francophone people and their desire for equal language rights, even though I do not speak French. However, I respect that and I work toward that goal.
I know there are other mechanisms other than the court challenges program. Even before the court challenges program, some of the initiatives were taken in Manitoba, for example, through the Public Interest Law Centre. An individual by the name of Arne Peltz used to take many of these cases, which were all funded through legal aid. Legal aid does much of that itself. Therefore, there are mechanisms to advance these types of cases.
I am mindful of the comments made by the member but I believe there are appropriate mechanisms that remain available, including work by interested lawyers who want to advance cases in the interest of justice in this country.
This particular bill is a very necessary bill. It helps, not only to improve language rights, which I support very strongly, but it helps to modernize the criminal justice system. One of my concerns is the whole issue of the efficiency of the criminal justice system. This bill would assist in that respect.
October 4th, 2006 / 4:05 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today on Bill C-23, which will amend the Criminal Code in several respects.
This is an omnibus bill concerned more particularly with criminal procedure, the language of the accused, sentencing, and other changes.
The proposed legislation is essentially a cleanup bill with the objectives of ensuring that the Criminal Code is up to date and to maximize its efficiency. Bill C-23 includes many substantive amendments to the Criminal Code, changes that touch on a number of issues, mostly to modernize the Criminal Code.
This is why we believe that this bill, if sent to committee to be thoroughly examined, would result in good law. At committee, experts can be called as witnesses to give evidence on the efficacy of each section of the amendments, whereby we might get closer to improving the Criminal Code, which we all recognize is a tired, well-worn and incomplete document for our criminal justice system, but it is the best we have had.
I do give compliments to the other side in suggesting that the Criminal Code was the child of a Conservative finance minister and subsequent prime minister in the 1880s. It has been patchworked together over the years, but no full and final revision of a modern Criminal Code has been undertaken, and it is long overdue.
However, this bill seeks to band-aid and fix up what we can to modernize certain sections of the code and we on this side welcome its implementation.
Some clauses included in Bill C-23 are aimed at keeping up with today's society, such as increasing the maximum fine for a summary conviction offence from $2,000 to $10,000. Although this might seem to be quite a jump, I believe that judges, with their cautious deference to the circumstances that exist, will use fair determinations to determine if an accused, based on capacity to pay, can make the payments and if the amount of the fine is indeed proportional to the person's capacity to pay.
Here I want to interject something that I think is very important to the whole tableau of justice bills that are before the House in this session. The 39th Parliament has seen a plethora of legal bills, but many of them and many of the actions of the government, despite the inundation of law, have really ripped apart the sense that we respect the judiciary.
I think of the delayed report on justices' salaries, now further delayed, we understand today. I think of the comments made by the Prime Minister of Canada in this House that Liberal lawyers were running the court challenges program. I think of the comments made by the Minister of Justice at the Canadian Bar Association conference in St. John's, and of those of the Prime Minister about Liberal judges made on occasions during the campaign of December and January of last year .
Notwithstanding that everybody might have a problem with certain appointments, when a judge becomes a member of the bench, he is a judge. He is an “Honourable Justice”. He is an interpreter of the laws. He deserves all of that respect.
The government has done nothing to further the cause of respect for the judiciary. It may be the on first day of civics class in grade 1 or grade 10, or in undergraduate or law school, that one learns that unless people have respect for the law through its judges, the law will not have the impact we all need it to have.
As the member for the riding of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, which is probably the most bilingual and most bicultural riding in the country, I am happy to see that Bill C-23 will reinforce the right of accused to be tried in the official language of their choice, and more particularly, the right to a bilingual trial in cases where two or more accused speak different official languages.
This is an important measure to ensure that all Canadians can have justice in either official language. As I was saying, in my community it would not be uncommon for an anglophone and a francophone to be tried together. The change to the law and the proposed amendments will ensure a trial in the preferred language of the accused. This is basic to our judicial system and would be just and fair.
At this time, I would also like to interject that this side of the House is for safer communities. This side of the House is for law and order. This side of the House is for the victims of crime as much as anything else that we stand for.
We differ in the ways to ensure that victims are safe in their communities. It is not enough to grandstand with bills that have catchy titles and catch the six o'clock news. To make people feel that they are going to be safer, the laws have to be effective. For the laws to be effective, institutions like the Law Commission and programs like the court challenges program are essential to ensure that we have a just and equitable society and that people feel safe in their communities.
More than that, in the situation and the environment where there is some $13.2 billion in surplus, we need to see that there are more resources in the community to enforce the law and to enforce programs that the police forces believe in, such as problem-oriented policing, which means having the police presence in the schools and in the community to prevent crime from happening. And that is to say nothing about the whole concept of rehabilitation, which must wait for another day.
Another aspect of the bill that I find very interesting, at least in principle, is the aspect of the issues surrounding subsequent prohibition from driving for consecutive offenders on impaired driving charges. As a father of three beautiful young girls, it enrages me to hear on the news of repeat drunk drivers and the menace they pose to our society.
I am proud to say that the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a New Brunswicker. I am proud to say that the very first meeting I had in my constituency office was with the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I know it is especially important to look and to act as if we as parliamentarians care about what happens when someone gets behind the wheel of a car impaired, not for the first time and certainly not for the last time if they do not get consecutive sentences that restrain them from driving.
Some people cannot get the message. They must be restrained from driving. This bill does that. It is long overdue. I think all sides can agree with the wise impact of that amendment. We often learn in these cases that it is these irresponsible individuals who have been arrested many times before for drunk driving and are out again in the community posing danger to our community.
However, here is where I must interject as well. In recent announcements by the government, $4.6 million has been cut from a pilot program administered or put in place by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to determine if someone is impaired from drug use while driving. While the acronym MADD might stand for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, they might as well be MAID, mothers against impaired driving. It matters not the source of the stupefier or the ingested product, whether it is alcohol or drugs. What matters is the danger to our innocent public.
It is insincere to cut this program on the one hand and on the other hand suggest that this law is in step with what the government feels. Through Bill C-23, the government has added prohibitions that were long thought of, but on the other hand it has stopped a program that might easily identify people who are impaired from other sources. It completely misses the mark. It is completely inconsistent. It makes me think that the Minister of Justice has not thought through the implications of his whole dossier in justice.
Of course, justice should not just be about more severe sentences and longer jail terms. Justice is about making our country safer. I strongly believe that this is not done by locking up criminals and throwing away the key. It is done through prevention, to protect potential victims from living through the recurrence of dramatic events. When it is not possible to prevent crimes, I believe justice is done through proper treatment to ensure criminals understand what they have done. This should, we all hope, be the first step in rehabilitating them and preventing further crimes. Again, our concern is about the victims: prevention of crime.
Bill C-23 is proposing to allow a sentencing delay in order to enable the offender to receive treatment. Bravo. This is finally the government suggesting that it believes in principles of sentencing other than deterrence and denunciation. It makes me think again that this bill, which we support, really is not a bill of the government. This was not the brainchild of the government. This is a fix-up bill that was well under way prior to the change in government.
So I must applaud the other side for seeing the sense in these parts of the amendments. I am very pleased that the Minister of Justice is bringing such a liberal approach to his department in this respect. I would almost be tempted to congratulate him on realizing the important role of treatment and rehabilitation, but of course we all know, both at the committee and in the public, that there are many other bills that have been before the House, and are to be before the committee, which strip away at the sincerity of the government's posturing toward treatment and rehabilitation. So I came close to complimenting the minister, but I cannot.
I must say it is refreshing to see the Conservative minority government respect some of these principles. We would like to see more action on them as it relates to the bill.
I am very interested in having the House discussing the omnibus bill one week after the Conservative government abolished the Law Commission of Canada. As most members are probably aware, the main objective of the Law Commission of Canada was to advise Parliament on how to improve and modernize its laws. Is that not ironic? We are here discussing Bill C-23, which is essentially a modernization, a keeping up to date of the Criminal Code, one of our oldest statutes, and as most members are probably aware, the Law Commission of Canada is to exist no more.
The Law Commission of Canada provided exceptional advice on such topics. This is why we are at a loss to explain that on the one hand we see parts of this omnibus bill that obviously recognize the evolution--somebody watching the Criminal Code as it evolved and coming up with these proposals--and on the other hand the government is saying it is not really interested in organically studying the evolution of law and it will cut the Law Commission just like that without any real reason.
I would say, if I could make a statement here, that in the space of a few days, the government in fact has shown its support for the Law Commission of Canada by speaking in favour of the bill. It is cutting funds to the Law Commission of Canada, and on the same day, as we know, there was a surplus announced of over $13 billion.
Generally speaking, Bill C-23 is all about details, but as we all know, some amendments have been made to the Criminal Code, and sometimes they look pretty small and unimportant. They often, however, have long term implications. Any of us following the saga of Bill C-9 on conditional sentencing will know that in what was more than the stroke of a pen, in what was a 60 page decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Proulx, what seemed like a very ordered system to deal with the application of conditional sentences turned into something completely different.
I believe, however, that we must study each of these amendments further at committee and learn more about the implications of some of the changes.
The purpose of Bill C-23 is to clean up, modernize and update the Criminal Code. We still have a responsibility, though, to study it thoroughly and understand the implications of the proposed changes.
The proposed amendments are quite varied and touch on several areas of the Criminal Code. It would be a very long, complicated process, therefore, to discuss them in detail in the House. For this reason, it is very appropriate to send BillC-23 to committee to ensure that each of these changes is well understood.
I am looking forward to studying this bill in the justice committee and the workings therein. With almost 50 clauses, Bill C-23 will definitely need some serious consideration to ensure we do actually clean up and modernize the Criminal Code, and not create more problems.
One last thing that concerns me is the workload that is being sent to the justice committee, not because the members of the committee from all parties are afraid of work, we are sitting three times a week now, but because of the sheer volume of bills presented to the committee. It seems like the government is more interested in putting these bills in the front store of its populist democracy and has no real interest in making sure that these bills are passed by this Parliament in a quick and just way.
I caution members of this House, if we are serious about keeping communities safer, if we are serious about protecting victims, then let us back up our words, as much as we agree on certain bills, and get these bills through this House.
That is why I emphatically endorse Bill C-23. Members will find that on this side of the House, in the House and in committee, we will put forth our very best efforts to see to it that it is passed with speed because this party and this side believe in safer communities and in the safety of victims.
I hearken back to my comments about my three daughters, aged 7, 8 and 10. If I thought we were not of ultimate dispatch in passing the amendments to this bill that call for further and subsequent prohibitions from driving for repeat drunk drivers, I would hold all of the members here accountable for not having done enough. Let us get to work on this bill.
Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board
Mr. Speaker, the member across complained vigorously about the Conservative government's decision to get tough on crime. He complained loudly that the Conservative government has introduced over a dozen tough on crime bills in the House of Commons. He complained that it is too much legislation for the House of Commons to deal with and that we should not be getting so tough on criminals.
I would like to point out that during the election the Liberals claimed, for about two weeks, that they too were tough on crime. They claimed that they too supported mandatory jail time for gun criminals and serious offenders. They claimed that after 13 years, they had learned their lesson and that all the soft on crime provisions that they had brought in over those 13 years would be removed if they were re-elected.
Now that they are back here in opposition, it is clear that they have learned nothing. The Liberals are still soft on crime. They oppose mandatory jail time for hardened criminals and gun criminals. The Liberals oppose our decision to end house arrest for serious sex offenders. They oppose our bans on street racing. They oppose all of our efforts to crack down on the growing scourge of gangs, guns and violence.
I have a question for the hon. member. Why will he not stand in his place and admit that his party, the Liberal Party, will always be soft on crime, and that crime victims can never rely on Liberals to keep our communities safe?
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, I am acquainted with the hon. member. We worked very hard and diligently on Bill C-2, the accountability act. I am very familiar with his absolute ability to have a drive-by political bombast, as we just witnessed.
If there was a question there, the question should have been on Bill C-23, but I will underline that this party is about keeping communities safe. This party, on this side, does care about victims' rights, which is precisely why, and it is so evident in the member's question and comment, we like to take a fact-based approach.
We would have appreciated the Minister of Justice and the parliamentary secretary coming to the justice committee with some studies or some facts to back up their storefront democracy version of events. This suggests that these laws that they are proposing, mostly written on the backs of napkins and usually three pages in length, are the panacea, and that they do not give people out there a false sense of security.
We believe in keeping communities safe and spending some of that $13.2 billion in surplus on resources in the community. I would love to discuss this with the hon. member and have him say that we are not giving enough to the police forces in our communities, that we have cut $4.6 million from a trial project administered by the RCMP, who they so steadfastly support and so do we, for drug-impaired reactions.
I know it is very difficult for members opposite to focus on what is before them, but this bill is the fruit of the good work of people at the Law Commission, and people in the Department of Justice. It is a good bill, having nothing to do with the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary and the members opposite.
Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have to admit to this House, and to anyone who is watching, how much I appreciated the comments of my colleague who just spoke.
I would like him to provide us with a bit more information about the particulars of this bill as it regards ensuring the rights of two co-accused, each one from one of our two official languages, to have a bilingual trial to ensure that each one would be able to have their trial in their language of choice.
There is first, the fact that this charter right, which we now are finding in this bill, actually comes out of court challenges which were funded under the Court Challenge Program which this new Conservative minority government has just cut. Second, there is the fact that many of the issues that are being dealt with within this bill are as a result of work that was done by the Law Commission, which again this new minority Conservative government is cutting funding for, notwithstanding that it was created by parliamentary statute.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, where I come from, Acadia, we certainly recognize that the Court Challenges Program has brought many cities, villages and provinces along with the federal government in interpreting the charter toward increasing the rights of francophones, primarily as the minority in New Brunswick, to have access to government services in the language of their choice.
I was a little dismayed when I heard the Minister of Justice say that he has a large francophone portion in his riding, he understands francophones, he cannot speak French, he represents them, he cares about them, he was an attorney general, and all that sort of thing. Yet, he cannot recognize that although the charter of rights gave entrenched rights to francophones and anglophones to have trials in the language of their choice in 1982, we are in 2006 realizing, after having been tested through the Court Challenges Program, that this needed to be ratcheted up a bit as this section would do.
How is the minister, from rural Manitoba, going to find out about other holes in charter rights across the country if he does not have court challenges or the Law Commission? I am not sure he is going to get it from the members opposite. I have not seen minority language rights as the storefront democracy document that the Conservatives are using. They are using the scare tactics of justice on the streets and they are using hyperbole, which will not get the job done.
As a result of court challenges and because of the Law Commission, which have now been obliterated by this government, it is very clear to Canadians that there is one side of the House that cares about justice, and that is this side, and one side of the House that does not care about justice. The Conservatives are not concerned with justice issues.
The Minister of Justice should be aptly renamed the “minister of what's popular in a scare tactics world”. That would be too long so we could make it an acronym. But the bottom line is that this minister and this government are only interested in very shallow bills that have a great ability to get on the six o'clock news.
The people of Canada should be aware that they are breeding a false sense of security out there because these bills are not supported by any facts or any studies, and the Conservatives are not doing the best they can to protect the victims as we are doing on this side.
Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK
Mr. Speaker, I heard the member's comments about studies and to me the best study is real experience.
The State of New York and the City of New York in the 1980s and 1990s had bleeding heart liberal democrats running both the city and the state. It was not safe to walk through Central Park at two o'clock in the afternoon, as a prosecutor found out back in the 1990s.
There was a change in that state. Rudy Giuliano was elected mayor of New York and George Pataki as the governor and they got tough on crime. They pushed aside all this liberal bleeding heart stuff to the sidelines, and got to the root cause of crime and got tough on it.
Today, New York City has a lower crime rate than any city in Great Britain of 500,000 people or less. That is based on real experience, not a bunch of bleeding heart criminologists cranking out some sort of opinionated, slanted report on crime. This is a real study in criminology.
If we want results, look to where we are getting results and follow those things. We have had 13 years of Liberal dithering. The only thing the Liberals could come up with was to register every firearm in the country as some sort of way of getting tough on crime. It did not make any difference in this country, as we have seen.
The Liberals did not want to put resources where they were really needed, putting police on the streets where crime is happening and getting the people that endanger our communities off our streets and out of our communities, especially the chronically dangerous type of criminals.
This is what the member opposite fails to address. I think he must have spent most of his years defending criminals in the criminal courts of our land. I am here to--
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his examples from the United States. We all know how fond the other side is of following whatever is done in the United States.
Let me correct what he may think about the State of New York. Yes, George Pataki was the conservative republican governor who came in. Yes, he is the governor under whose administration most of the mandatory minimum sentences in the State of New York have been revoked. This is Bill C-10 for the member's information.
The mandatory minimums in that state have completely been removed. I know it is not popular, but the facts show it does not work.
We have to be oriented toward the facts in all of these cases. I was simply saying on Bill C-23 that these are good amendments. The fact is they were born by contests in the Court Challenges Program and the good work of the Law Commission. Now we do not have these programs, so we will probably not have a Bill C-23 in the future.
I would like to agree with the member that these are good reforms and they will improve our society and make them better. Basically, they are the fruit of Liberal institutions.
We will see if the member will put his vote where his mouth is and vote against this Liberal bill presented under the guise of the Conservative government and truly not want more safety in our community which this side wants.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak to this bill, which, let us be frank, is really somewhat technical.
Before starting, I would like to take a few moments to comment on the news. I am a little discouraged with this government. People who know me know that I am an optimist through and through. I love life. I am even a rather affable fellow: I keep my cool and I get angry only on very rare occasions. I am a little worried about this government, however. Frankly, we get the impression that this government has assigned itself the job of making life difficult for minorities. It is unbelievable that this government, which is not even a year old, would decide to cut off programs that deal with the status of women and that fight illiteracy.
We might think that in our society, illiteracy is a marginal phenomenon, that people who need to learn how to read are found in marginal groups. When we look a little closer, we realize that there are people in all walks of life who, as a result of problems in their lives, are illiterate. Not knowing how to write has nothing to do with people’s intelligence or with how well off they are. The phenomenon is somewhat related to social status, however. Statistically, there is in fact a higher risk that poverty, in the broad sense, will lead to illiteracy. Nonetheless, it would be a major sociological error to think that illiteracy affects only people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
We also know that this government has chosen to attack gay rights, at a time when considerable progress had been made. We have to ask ourselves: why reverse the gains that have been made and that are no threat to anyone?
Earlier, in reply to a question I asked him, the Minister of Justice said that there was no basis for this. I hope that we will never, in this House, be told that we are going to have to examine a bill that will, in the name of freedom of religion, allow disrespect to be shown for the homosexual communities, for lesbians or gay men.
We have a duty to keep a very close eye on this government. In the area of criminal justice, it has been a long time since we saw, in a democracy, a government that is not merely conservative, but completely reactionary. We have to ask who this government is speaking for. A demagogical line is being drawn between public safety and the desire for harsher sentences, and we know that there is not one member of this House who is not concerned about public safety.
In August 1995, in my neighbourhood, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, on Adam Street, near my office, I witnessed a car bomb explode. The explosion was part of a conflict going on between motorcycle gangs. All of the members who followed the news at that time will recall that a young man, Daniel Desrochers, lost his life in that explosion. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I immediately joined with all parties in this House to determine what we had to do to respond to this new phenomenon of organized crime. Organized crime was wearing a new face, it was different from what we had seen at the CIOC.
I recall having conversations with senior officials. I do not blame them because this was a new phenomenon. Some officials had the strange notion that it would be possible to break up the 38 criminal biker gangs by using provisions on conspiracy. It is one thing to conspire, and it is quite another thing to be actively involved in a criminal gang. A new law had to be created. The Bloc Québécois devoted itself to that task through the work of my former colleague, the member for Berthier—Montcalm, my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, and my former colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.
That was a time when Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles was well represented. I am convinced that this mistake will be corrected in the next election.
So, it was necessary to create a new law, to establish new provisions and the Bloc Québécois at that time supported the new section 467 of the Criminal Code which established the criminal organization offence. It was not perfect and it was quickly recognized that the criterion of having five members who had previously received sentences of five years during the previous five years—the three fives rule—was not really operational in terms of the law. Why? Because the criminal biker gangs set up what could be called farm teams that recruited people who were not so well known to the intelligence services and the police. As a result, it continued to be difficult to bring those people before the courts.
Suffice it to say that it is sometimes necessary to establish new offences. Some of the social problems we were faced with call for a solution based in criminal law. Given the times we live in, we cannot follow the government in certain matters. Criminal activity has never been so low. Obviously, if there is a crime, some wrongdoing, a robbery or a sexual assault, that is one too many. That is clear. Nevertheless, as legislators we must think of the overall picture, of prevailing trends. It is clear that currently crime is on the decline; and that is true for all western societies.
Why is crime on the decline? Because we are living in a society where, in terms of population, people age 50 and over represent a much greater share of the population. There is an obvious correlation between population distribution and criminal activity. That is the first explanation. The second factor is that the economy is doing well. We are not in a period of recession, as was the case in the 1980s or the 1990s. Of course, that does not mean that we can cut the POWA program. Obviously industrial sectors are facing obsolescence, but overall the economy is doing well.
So if the government had said that its first legislative action was going to be to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include social condition or status as a prohibited ground of discrimination, the Bloc Québécois would have acknowledged that the government had a degree of sensitivity. Instead, the first bill that the government brought forward relates to the issue of conditional sentences, against a backdrop of demagoguery the likes of which has rarely been seen before. God knows that I have had some experience of it. I have been here for 13 years, and I have taken part in a number of public debates.
I want to say a few words about conditional sentences before getting to the heart of the bill. I imagine that no one in the Bloc Québécois or among the other parties thinks that in every possible scenario we must allow prisoners to serve their sentences at home. Socially, one does not need a Ph.D. in criminology or political science to understand that there are some offences that call for real denunciation.
That is the purpose of sentencing. When we look at the objectives in section 718 of the Code, we see rehabilitation and denunciation. Denunciation means that there have to be exemplary sentences. Some offences are so heinous, arouse such disgust that we cannot imagine that people could serve their sentences in their communities.
But the Conservative government, with its obvious lack of nuance, says that this will apply to all offences punishable by more than 10 years in prison. Obviously, the fact that an offence is punishable by more than 10 years does not mean that a judge will hand down a 10-year sentence. We are well aware of this.
An offence that is punishable by 10 years, that could be the case for counterfeiting currency or pirating software. It can also apply in the case of simple possession of marihuana. So obviously the marker for detention in the community cannot simply be the 10-year sentence criterion.
On the other hand, some offences—such as child neglect and abuse—are not punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. But do we want people convicted of that kind of abuse to be serving their sentence in the community? Of course not.
For organized crime, section 467, that I spoke about earlier, contains certain provisions—sections 467.1, 467.2 and 467.3—that provide for offences that are not punishable by more than 10 years in prison.
We therefore see that this is a very odd sort of government. And it is very plain that it is completely at odds with the values that Quebeckers uphold. I also think that in the next election we will be looking at a government that is refusing to resolve the fiscal imbalance issue.
It really is quite unbelievable. The Prime Minister was elected because of the Gomery Commission. He talks about transparency, accountability, keeping his word. He goes before the Chamber of Commerce in Sainte-Foy and he makes a speech.
We told ourselves that, if the leader of the Conservative Party had something to say about this, it was because he believed in what he was saying and he was saying what he believed, and that he would turn the commitment he had made into a reality. He undertook to solve the fiscal imbalance. In fact, the Séguin commission had mentioned a shortfall of $50 million a week for the Government of Quebec, in light of its responsibilities in such areas as education, culture and income security.
Imagine our disappointment when we heard the Prime Minister say on Le Point a few days ago that he was not in a hurry and that we would see.
He wants the consensus of all the provinces. All those who read the O'Connor report know full well that a consensus of the provinces regarding the fiscal imbalance and equalization will be hard to get. They do not agree on either the inclusion of natural resources or what has to go into the actual equalization formula.
Let us stay on topic. I want Quebeckers to remember how this government is on the verge of becoming dangerous for our democratic values.
The bill that the government has submitted, however, does contain some relatively positive measures overall. It is fairly inoffensive, seeking to reform some procedural provisions, such as the one on service.
The former premier of Quebec loved to quote the old Latin adage Audi alteram partem. Premier Bernard Landry also said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. He used this expression in an election campaign, but of course I am not here to talk about him although I must say that former Premier Landry was a great debater. He was a very great premier, let us never forget.
That being said, the bill before us is interesting in some respects because it will harmonize the rules of service. According to the principles of natural justice, it is unthinkable that an accused person might be brought before the courts without knowing exactly why the law is concerned about him. When one is brought before the courts, one must not only have a clear idea of the charge, but one must also have complete access to the evidence. This was the ruling by the Supreme Court in 1992 in Stinchcombe.
Of course this revolutionized the whole justice system, as my friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board knows. Incidentally, I just learned that he and I share a common passion, as he was an Olympic wrestler. Of course, we are not in the same weight class since he has put on a few kilos over the years, but I know he is in great shape. He goes to the gym regularly and it would be a great pleasure for me to take him on in a friendly competition if he so wished.
That being said, the bill contains interesting aspects on the whole issue of evidence.
We are interested in looking a little further to better understand this bill, but we are reassured with regard to this aspect.
Another positive aspect is the use of telecommunications to forward warrants to be executed in a different jurisdiction than the one where the search took place. It is called a change of venue.
There are also changes to the process with respect to the challenge of jurors in order to help preserve their impartiality, among other things. This is an interesting aspect since the use of jurors comes from the common law system. It may be the only direct way for our fellow citizens to take part in the judicial process if they are not the victims or the accused, or if they do not themselves work in the justice system.
However, the challenge of jurors is not that simple since it is a random system, something we must not forget. Parties may challenge jurors on the basis of their background, their bias, their statements, their roles, etc. We are indeed very happy to learn that there will be an updating of the way jurors can be challenged.
I was somewhat concerned after reading one aspect. We will see what it means in due course. An appeal of a superior court order with respect to things seized lying with the court of appeal is not always a simple matter, because some appeals are appeals as of right—an appeal de plano—while other appeals are appeals with leave.
The majority of appeals are made with leave to appeal, which clearly involves some degree of discretion. For example, in the case of a conditional sentence of imprisonment, it was not clear whether a conditional sentence order could be suspended. It appeared that the department had agreed and that it is not a provision that is reflected in the bill. That is, perhaps, a less positive aspect. We will see exactly what meaning is to be given to it, but that does not compromise our wish to see the bill referred to committee. However, overall, it is less positive.
In closing—I have the feeling that my time is quickly expiring and if all is well, Mr. Speaker, please let me know—I want to speak about one aspect about which we have some questions. The severity of the sentence can be appreciated depending on whether it is a summary prosecution or a criminal charge. We consider that a criminal charge is generally more serious in terms of the offence, the penalty and the judicial process because the laying of a criminal charge leads, more often than not, to a trial by jury.
Now, on the subject of fines and summary conviction offences, the maximum fines have been increased from $2,000 to $10,000. I am concerned about that. However, it is true that the amounts had not been revised for 20 years. We will see what the witnesses have to say on that subject.
This is a strange government, somewhat removed from the values of Quebeckers, but it has introduced a bill that deserves consideration not because it deals with the substance of the matter but with the rules of procedure. We will be pleased to work in committee to obtain the most information possible and to ensure that we produce the best legislation possible.
Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's presentation. It is with great satisfaction that I noted, as he did, that a change had taken place in the riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, now represented by a colleague who sits on the government side and who helps bring forward concrete legislative measures like the bill before us today.
During the summer, that member took the time to hold consultations in his riding to ensure that the measures brought forward will help improve our justice system. I myself took part in some of those meetings, including with women's groups that are trying to deal with the problem of domestic violence and that are looking for ways to help rape victims and to prevent these types of crimes.
The groups we met were very pleased with the measures proposed by our government. What is nice about being a government member is to be able to propose concrete measures and to go forward with them with the cooperation of other parliamentarians.
This bill will make several improvements. I would like to have my colleague's opinion on three of those. I would like to know if he supports them. First, this bill proposes to give our justice system a means to deal with child pornography. It also provides that the examination of an accused be conducted in the language of the accused. Finally, it limits or prohibits communications between the accused and the victims.
I would like my colleague to tell us what he thinks of those three measures, which I believe are excellent and will improve our justice system.