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 code.

Topics

An Act to amend certain acts in relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on Bill C-18, which is a bill to amend certain components of the law pertaining to the DNA Identification Act.

As has been mentioned by other speakers, Bill C-18 impacts the Criminal Code of Canada and the DNA Identification Act as well as the National Defence Act.

Allow me to say at the outset that I am in agreement with government members and other members that the bill should be directed to the justice committee for further scrutiny. It is actually refreshing to speak in favour of a bill that has been introduced by the government, perhaps because this bill is essentially a successor to Bill C-72, which had been introduced by the then minister of justice under the former Liberal government.

Bill C-18 is very similar to Bill C-72 which, as I have mentioned, was introduced by the Liberal government in the last Parliament, the 38th Parliament.

Certain other bills that have been introduced by the government reflect, if I may term it such, a rather simplistic view of the criminal justice system and, by extension, an overly simplistic view of human nature. Would that preventing wrongdoing be as simple as making punishments increasingly harsh for certain offences. Those who advocate such an approach to the criminal justice system, such as those who advocate something akin to “three strikes and you are out”, are creating a false expectation among citizens that the crime rate will automatically be reduced if the punishments for criminal activity are only increased substantially.

Regrettably, that conclusion is reflected to a large extent in the criminal justice system in our neighbour to the south, and the crime rate is actually higher in the United States than it is here in Canada.

When it comes to predicting human behaviour and to taking measures to reduce wrongdoing or criminal behaviour, it is not a simple task, certainly not as simple as imposing considerably harsher punishments in the hope or expectation that criminal activity will therefore decrease.

However much I have difficulty with certain bills which have been or will likely be introduced by the government, Bill C-18 is truly a step forward and, at a minimum, should be sent to committee.

I practised family and criminal law in the city of Brantford and in other centres for a period of some 25 years. In my practice, I had abundant opportunity to represent hundreds of individuals who had been charged with one or a series of criminal offences and, on occasion, had opportunities to prosecute accused persons as a part time crown attorney.

During my years practising law I had an opportunity to work with and to admire the skills of crown attorneys such as Don Angevine, Bob Kindon, George Orsini and others, and to learn a great deal from very distinguished defence counsel in the persons of Gerry Smits, John Renwick and others.

I also had the benefit of observing the balanced, fair approach that was customarily adopted by various judges in the country of Brant, including Justice James Kent, Justice Ken Lenz, Justice Gethin Edward, Justice Lawrence Thibideau and others.

I was and remain acutely aware of the maxim which must necessarily govern any criminal proceeding, that is, “if the criminal justice system renders it too easy to convict the guilty then the system renders it too difficult to acquit the innocent”. Simply put, it is important to ensure that individual rights are protected and that the potentially overwhelming crushing power of the state is harnessed and kept in check by rules of evidence and principles of sentencing that are eminently fair, reasonable and balanced.

As do many others, I well understand the concept of civil liberties, and I am always, through dint of experience, wary or leery of any measure which curtails individual liberties or allows the power of the state to interfere with an individual's rights of freedom and security of the person.

In my view, Bill C-18 strikes a proper balance and is not inappropriately intrusive of individual rights or freedoms. Rather, it strikes the appropriate balance between the maintaining of individual freedoms and the fundamental right of the state or society to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of all citizens.

There are many offences in the Criminal Code which require an individual accused person to provide samples of his or her fingerprints to the police merely upon that individual having been charged with a criminal offence. In essence, the mere fact that an individual has been charged with a criminal offence, not convicted, allows the criminal justice system to procure his or her fingerprints. Failure on the part of the accused person to provide his fingerprints results in a further criminal charge being laid against him.

This particular section of the Criminal Code has been tested before courts in Canada, and courts have concluded that it is reasonable, in the best interests of all citizens and community safety, to obligate accused persons charged with certain offences to provide their fingerprints to the authorities. I would, and so many others would as individual citizens, be tremendously troubled by any bill which obligated all persons or citizens to provide their fingerprints to the police, as such a requirement would be unnecessarily interfering with the rights of citizens to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

However, this government bill, Bill C-18, does no such thing, and again, I am in support of the bill being referred to the justice committee for further consideration.

As members in this chamber will know, the science of DNA has been advanced considerably over the last 10 or 12 years, and experts have concluded that the analysis of DNA has become a very exact science. Certainly the public has come to accept DNA evidence as very significant, representing proof beyond a reasonable doubt, for instance, in criminal proceedings.

Such was not always the case. I think back in particular to the case of O.J. Simpson in or around 1995. It is difficult to know what was in the minds of the jury that ultimately acquitted Mr. Simpson. Mr. Speaker will know that jurors in the United States are at liberty to comment on their deliberations and their verdicts, unlike the system in Canada as it pertains to our juries.

Many analysts at that time commented that the evidence against Mr. Simpson was quite overwhelming and that the DNA evidence in particular was compelling and persuasive. However, the jury ultimately acquitted Mr. Simpson, which caused legal commentators to state that the members of the jury in acquitting Mr. Simpson and in seemingly ignoring the DNA evidence was the equivalent of a jury a century ago acquitting an accused person even though a photograph of the accused person committing the crime had been introduced as evidence.

A hypothetical jury of a century ago was suspicious of evidence which had been obtained by the use of, at that time, a newfangled device called a camera. One can only presume that the jury which found Mr. Simpson not guilty was suspicious of the DNA evidence which had been gathered and suspicious of the science behind the DNA.

We know differently now. DNA has come to be accepted as a very valuable tool in fighting crime and in determining the real wrongdoer or culprit.

Arguably, but for DNA evidence which was ultimately used to exonerate them, David Milgaard's name would never have been cleared, and Guy Paul Morin, wrongfully convicted of murdering Christine Jessop some years ago, would still be languishing in a penitentiary. DNA was used in those cases, and in many others, to exonerate an individual who had been, as it turned out, wrongfully convicted of a serious crime.

In that sense, DNA evidence assists each citizen of Canada as it can be used to eliminate innocent persons as well as potential suspects. For that reason, I have no difficulty, either personally or professionally, with Bill C-18.

As has been noted by others in their comments on the DNA Identification Act, “this Act is to establish a national DNA data bank to help law enforcement agencies identify persons alleged to have committed designated offences, including those committed before the coming into force of this Act”.

Certainly, the National Data Bank follows strict guidelines, as specified in the DNA Identification Act, and the biological samples collected from convicted offenders and the resulting DNA profiles can only be used for law enforcement purposes.

I believe it is beyond dispute that the National DNA Data Bank assists law enforcement agencies in various ways to solve crimes by, first, helping to identify suspects, second, eliminating suspects when there is no match between the DNA found at the crime scene and a DNA profile in the national data bank, and third, linking crimes together when there are no suspects.

Simply put, we on this side believe that this legislation is a vital tool to protect the safety of Canadians. It is for that precise reason--

An Act to amend certain acts in relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am sorry to interrupt. The hon. the chief government whip on a point of order.

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

October 4th, 2006 / 3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I humbly apologize for interrupting the hon. member's remarks. I hope that any time taken up with this procedure will be added to his time so he does not suffer unduly for this interruption. There have been discussions among all the parties and if you were to seek it I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, in relation to its studies on the Canadian seal hunt and grey seals, 12 members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans be authorized to travel to St. Anthony, Gander, Cap-aux-Meules and Yarmouth in November 2006, and that the necessary staff do accompany the committee.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, simply put, we on this side believe that Bill C-18 is a vital tool in protecting the safety of all Canadians. It is for this precise reason that our government, many months ago, originally introduced a bill very similar to the bill now before the House; that is, we introduced a bill dealing with the DNA data bank.

When it comes to fighting crime and to ensuring that our communities are as safe as possible, partisanship should not rear its head. I know, in that vein, members opposite will agree that this bill was essentially a parroting of a bill which had been introduced previously by the Liberal government.

By way of background, the DNA Identification Act was created in 1998 and came into force on June 30, 2000. Section 13 of the act clearly states that within five years of the act coming into force, a review of the provisions and operations of the act should be undertaken by a committee of the House, committee of the Senate, or by both. The review has not yet taken place, though obviously more than five years have passed since the act first came into force.

The current Minister of Justice was quoted earlier this year as stating that the review “should begin as soon as possible after this bill receives royal assent”. Unquestionably, the review should happen as soon as possible and to be candid, the review is already overdue. I hope we will eventually hear from the minister as to when the review will take place, and one hopes that compliance with section 13 is a top priority for the Minister of Justice.

DNA has become so important in the investigation of crime and the pursuit of the criminal element that strict compliance with the act should certainly be the order of the day. It is obvious that the use of forensic DNA analysis in solving crime has emerged as one of the most powerful tools available to law enforcement agencies for the administration of justice. It is not an exaggeration to compare the impact of DNA to the introduction of fingerprint evidence into court more than a century ago.

DNA, often referred to as the blueprint of life, is the fundamental building block of a person's entire genetic makeup and is found in virtually every tissue in the human body. It is a very powerful tool for identification purposes, except with respect to identical twins. The DNA molecule itself is extremely stable and can withstand significant environmental challenges, which allowed authorities, for instance, just a few years ago to locate DNA evidence which exonerated David Milgaard of a murder which took place over 30 years ago.

The National DNA Data Bank, located here in Ottawa, is responsible for two principle indices.

The first index is the convicted offender index, an electronic index which has been developed from DNA profiles collected from offenders who have been convicted of designated primary and secondary offences identified in Canada's Criminal Code. As of May, the convicted offender index had nearly 100,000 entries.

The second index is the crime scene index, a separate index composed of DNA profiles obtained from crime scene investigations of the same designated offences. There are several thousands of DNA samples of convicted offenders, which are included in the national DNA data bank, along with thousands of samples from various crime scenes across the country.

Police officers all across Canada have received extensive training on the process involved in collecting DNA samples and in the process of forwarding those samples for analysis to the National DNA Data Bank. Obviously the data collected as a result of this science has to be managed appropriately. It is fair to say that consultations with the provinces and the territories, as well as members of the public, have been instrumental in developing amending legislation over the past several years.

Under the act as it is currently constituted, there are both primary and secondary designated offences. The primary designated offences are considered the most serious criminal offences such as murder, manslaughter and sexual offences. The secondary designated offences include, for instance, arson and assault.

When an individual is convicted of a primary designated offence, the sentencing judge is automatically required to make an order for the collection of a DNA sample from that convicted individual, unless that individual can convince the court otherwise. With respect to a secondary designated offence, a DNA sample collection order is not automatic, but may be granted if the court, upon application by the prosecution, is satisfied that it is in the best interests of justice to do so.

The previous Liberal government moved a number of previously listed secondary offences to the primary list, including the new offence of Internet luring of a child. Other offences which were moved to the primary list included child pornography and robbery.

In essence, the sentencing judge orders the convicted individual to appear in order to provide a DNA sample. Bill C-18 would make it an offence for that individual to fail to appear for DNA sampling purposes, similar to the offence for failing to show up for fingerprinting. There needs to be some teeth in the law in order to ensure compliance, and Bill C-18 would provide that.

Bill C-18 is essentially an enhanced version of previous government bills. Again, I believe it is appropriate to send this bill to committee for appropriate consideration.

The Supreme Court of Canada in its deliberations has recognized the importance of DNA and DNA legislation and has decided in the case of R. v. Rodgers that the collection of DNA samples for data bank purposes from designated offenders is reasonable. I agree.

The Criminal Code and other related legislation and the criminal justice system under which the legislation operates must do all it can to ensure community safety. Any suggestion by civil libertarians that this legislation is too invasive of a person's freedom or rights, or forces an individual to essentially incriminate himself, are outweighed by the need for community safety, and the passage of legislation which will assist in assuring the safety of the community.

In my view Bill C-18 accomplishes that.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the arguments that the very learned member of Parliament made. I would like to ask him a question vis-à-vis the legality of the DNA samples.

Is he aware of any instances where even though DNA samples are presented, they are seriously challenged in hearings and in court, and whether there is an almost automatic acceptance of it?

The reason I ask is that it has occurred to me that since so much weight is now being put on DNA, perhaps someone, who is intent on doing something bad and wants to frame someone else for it, could plant some DNA, obtained surreptitiously, at the scene of a crime or wherever and thereby implicate someone else.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is an important one. As I have indicated in my remarks, police officers across Canada have received extensive training with respect to DNA and, in particular, with respect to the gathering of evidence, which includes DNA.

However, to answer the member's question in short, I am not aware of particular cases in which it has been alleged that DNA evidence has been planted with the intent of framing someone else. It may be that those cases do exist, but I am not aware any.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

An Act to Amend Certain Acts in Relation to DNA Identification
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I will speak, not surprisingly, in favour of the provisions of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, which deals with criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments.

As members know, this government has introduce in the House a number of legislative measures that contribute to the protection of law-abiding Canadians. I believe ensuring that our criminal justice systems remains modern, efficient and effective is an important component of the multi-faceted goal of tackling crime, which the government has made one of its key priorities.

This initiative is an example of work of the Department of Justice to update, modernize and improve the law and to respond to the ongoing need to make technical amendments, such as addressing procedural anomalies, making corrections, clarifying current ambiguities in some Criminal Code provisions, as well as modernizing other provisions by introducing the use of communication technologies. So-called housekeeping amendments of this kind are needed from time to time.

The changes proposed in Bill C-23 may not appear to some people as a pressing initiative, but it is an important bill that will contribute to the smooth functioning of the criminal justice system and it will assist the day to day functions of those who work within the system.

I believe these types of amendments are necessary from time to time and such bills should find their way to the House on a regular basis, as needed.

As many of these amendments have been developed in collaboration with justice system partners, this initiative also illustrates the government's resolve to work in cooperation with its provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as other justice system stakeholders, such as the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, to improve the Canadian criminal justice system.

The amendments contained in Bill C-23 fall principally within three categories; criminal procedure, language of the accused and sentencing.

Without describing each proposal introduced by the bill, which are for the most part so-called technical amendments, I would like to highlight some of them. First, I will deal with the criminal procedure amendments.

Several criminal procedure amendments serve to clarify the application and purpose of certain provisions, as well as improve procedural efficiencies by permitting the use of modern technology and rationalizing existing provisions.

For instance, one amendment is proposed to streamline the procedure for executing search warrants in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the search warrant was obtained. Currently, out of province search warrants can only be endorsed by presenting the original warrant for endorsement to a judge or a justice in the province where the warrant is to be executed. This, of course, takes time and is labour as well as resource intensive. This amendment would allow the search warrant obtained in one province to be submitted by electronic communication to the court in the province where a copy of the warrant would be endorsed by a judge or a justice, thus expediting the process for executing out of province search warrants.

Another criminal procedure amendment will serve to clearly set out the right of an accused person to change his or her mode of trial when the Supreme Court of Canada orders a judge and jury trial to be retried. The proposed amendment will introduce more flexibility and will assist in avoiding unnecessary jury trials where the accused prefers to be retried by a judge alone.

An additional procedural amendment would clarify that in the case of the summary conviction trial, which involves multiple defendants, the court may continue the proceedings against all of them, even where one of the co-defendants fails to attend.

The Criminal Code currently provides several provisions dealing with the proof of service of court documents, such as a notice, subpoena and a summons. The bill includes a series of amendments that will effectively consolidate into one provision all relevant sections dealing with the proof of service of court documents, thus ensuring that this regime is governed by one easily referenced provision.

Other amendments would refine the jury selection process to better protect the impartiality of prospective jury members, as well as sworn jurors. Another amendment would correct inconsistencies in this process with regard peremptory challenges.

Before moving on to the other two categories, I would like to mention one last criminal procedure amendment. The offence of possessing break-in instruments is currently a straight indictable offence. Experience has shown us that this offence is often committed together with the offence of “break and enter into a place other than a dwelling house”, which is a hybrid offence; that is, an offence where the prosecution can either elect to proceed by way of indictment or summary conviction.

The amendment would hybridize the offence of possessing break-in instruments, thereby allowing crown prosecutors, in appropriate circumstances, to proceed with one single trial by way of summary conviction for both offences.

I believe the examples I have listed together with other criminal procedure amendments contained in this bill are necessary and provide practical procedural improvements to the Criminal Code.

I would now like to turn to the amendments in Bill C-23 with respect to the language rights of the accused person during a criminal proceeding. Sections 530 and 530.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada guarantee the right of all accused persons to have their preliminary inquiry and trial before a court that speaks the official language of the accused and to have a crown prosecutor conducting a prosecution who speaks the language of the accused.

These rights are an example of the advancement of language rights through legislative means as provided in subsection 16(3) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and have been in force throughout Canada since January 1, 1990. However, since the coming into force of these provisions, studies and public consultations have demonstrated that these language rights are often misunderstood by accused persons, the bar, crown prosecutors and judges.

This situation may well result in some accused not invoking their rights in a timely fashion, thus presenting a barrier to the full exercise and implementation of these rights, as well as creating additional difficulties and costs for the justice system. In turn, such misunderstanding has led courts to identify certain shortcomings and to issue rulings that do not always correspond with the intent of the existing provisions.

The amendments proposed in Bill C-23 would clearly set out the full extent of these rights and would assist in better implementing the language requirements in the Criminal Code and in rectifying some shortcomings identified in various studies and by the courts, notably by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Beaulac in 1999. The amendments also bring greater clarity to the provisions, thus ensuring greater efficiency throughout the criminal justice process.

The amendments would also provide solutions and improvements that respond to a 1995 study by the Commissioner of Official Languages entitled “The Equitable Use of English and French Before the Courts in Canada”. In the study, the Commissioner of Official Languages identified a number of barriers to the exercise of the language rights of accused persons.

The commissioner recommended that all accused be better informed of the right to a trial in the official language of their choice. The commissioner also indicated that there appeared to be little logic in providing a trial in the language of the accused while failing to provide the accused with a version of the originating documents leading to his being on trial in the language as well.

Finally, the commissioner identified a number of practical issues that arise in the context of bilingual trials and which have led to contradictory approaches and court decisions.

The amendments proposed here address many of these concerns. For example, amendments to the language rights provisions would heed the advice given by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Beaulac decision by requiring the court to inform all accused persons of their right to be tried in their official language whether they are represented or not.

The amendments also follow court decisions requiring that the charging document must be translated in the language of the accused upon request. This appears to be a necessary complement to accused persons exercising their language rights. The proposed amendment would standardize existing practices in that regard and ensure the wording in the Criminal Code more accurately reflects the state of the law.

By the same token, to satisfy the need for certainty and precision in criminal proceedings where the charging document has been translated, a further amendment would make it clear that where there is an inconsistency between the original version of the charging document and the translated version, the original document ought to prevail.

Finally, the proposed amendments would provide the presiding judge with the power to issue appropriate orders to ensure that bilingual trials run smoothly and efficiently. The absence of such a provision has led to fruitless debate and it is time to bring greater efficiency to such proceedings.

I would now like to turn to the sentencing provisions. Bill C-23 gathers together several technical sentencing amendments. The purpose of this series of amendments is similar to that of the other two categories, namely, to clarify the intent of certain sentencing provisions and improve efficiencies in the application of certain court sentencing processes. There are also other amendments that serve to update the law or extend existing measures to protect victims.

I would like to highlight some of the changes that are proposed in sentencing. One area where uncertainty warrants changing the law is the penalties for impaired driving. As I will detail in a moment, the following amendment will provide courts, the parties to the proceedings and, in particular, impaired driving offenders with some certainty regarding the exact sanction that will apply to a person convicted.

Given current uncertainty in judicial decisions, this change will have the effect of clearly stating that the minimum fine and minimum jail terms that apply for a first, second and third impaired driving offence, such as the operation of a motor vehicle while impaired and refusal to provide a breath sample, do apply to the more serious situations of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. Accordingly, this amendment will also clarify that conditional sentence is not available for these offences as this type of sanction cannot be imposed for offences that attract a minimum penalty.

Another impaired driving amendment that I would like to highlight here is with respect to concurrent driving prohibition orders. The Criminal Code currently provides that impaired driving offenders who breach a driving prohibition order can receive a subsequent driving prohibition order. However, this subsequent additional prohibition order runs concurrently with the initial order imposed. As both orders run at the same time, the second driving prohibition may be rendered less meaningful. The amendment that is proposed would expressly provide that the second order is to be served consecutively with any existing driving prohibition orders.

This bill also contains two additional amendments with respect to impaired driving offenders who participate or wish to participate in an interlock ignition device program with a chance to make an early return to driving. These interlock device programs are currently offered in a number of provinces across Canada. Alberta and Quebec were early leaders in implementing such programs.

Criminal Code provisions enable provinces and territories, if they wish to do so, to permit an impaired driver who drives a motor vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device to drive during the driving prohibition period imposed by the court, but only after a minimum period of time has passed based upon whether the impaired driving conviction was a first, second or subsequent offence. Just to clarify matters, if it sounded as though we are allowing impaired drivers to drive, that is not the intent of the legislation. It is those who have been convicted of impaired driving. This does not change the law in that respect.

One amendment that would provide that for greater certainty an impaired driving offender is only permitted to drive while being the subject of a driving prohibition order if he or she has registered in an alcohol ignition interlock device program and is in compliance with the conditions of the program. This amendment is intended to make it clear that the offender must not only be enrolled in the program, but must also comply with all the terms of the program during the driving prohibition period.

In addition, currently the only proceeding by which an offender can request permission to be enrolled in an interlock device program is at the time of sentencing. Where this request has been omitted at the sentencing stage, the opportunity to request permission to enrol in such a program has been lost, as no other proceeding is provided in the Criminal Code to address this request at a later time. Therefore, a minor amendment would ensure that unless the sentencing court states otherwise, all impaired driving offenders will be authorized to apply for an enrolment in an alcohol-ignition interlock device program in those jurisdictions where such a program, with an early return to driving, is available.

Before I conclude, I would like to highlight two additional sentencing amendments contained in the bill that may be of particular interest to my hon. colleagues. I hope this next amendment will give victims some reassurance as it provides sentencing courts with an additional tool to protect them from unwanted communications while the offender is serving a jail term.

Courts currently hold the power to order accused persons and convicted offenders not to communicate with victims while they are either in remand, out on bail or on probation. However, no similar power exists to order an offender not to communicate with victims while the offender is serving a jail sentence. Practises for dealing with unwanted communications in correctional institutions vary among jurisdictions with most situations being addressed on a case by case basis and handled through disciplinary measures.

The amendment will extend the existing measures to protect persons from unwanted communications by providing sentencing courts with the power to order an offender not to communicate with victims, witnesses and other identified persons while the offender is in custody.

The amendment also includes the creation of an offence as an enforcement mechanism for a breach of such an order. I believe the amendment will provide the missing link in the chain of prevention measures against unwanted communication by accused persons and convicted offenders.

Last, I would like to bring to the attention of my colleagues an amendment with respect to fines. The current maximum monetary penalty for summary conviction offences of $2,000 has remained unchanged for over 20 years. Other monetary limits in the Criminal Code have been adjusted over the years. Bill C-23 proposes to increase the maximum fine to $10,000. This adjustment would allow crown prosecutors to seek a higher fine when proceeding by summary conviction.

As members can see in some, the amendments, as highlighted by the examples presented today, would strengthen sentencing measures, enhance the efficiency of criminal procedures and clarify court related language rights provisions.

I would like to call on all members of the House to join me in supporting this important legislation.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-23 is a good clean-up bill because it takes care of a lot of loose ends. The Department of Justice should be complimented on its good work.

However, I cannot say the same about the justice minister's implications in this bill. The bill was the fruit of the good work of the Law Commission, which has been eradicated. One of the first steps of the Minister of Justice, through the government purse keepers, the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board, was to cut the Law Commission.

Would the minister agree that the government was hasty in completely gutting the Law Commission?

The second point I would like to make is that the new Official Languages Commissioner, Graham Fraser, before the official languages committee said that he would be in favour of keeping the court challenges program.

The minister will know, at least I hope he knows, that the battle and struggle for language rights in this country has been in part as a result of successful court challenges applications and the testing of municipal and provincial laws and even, in some cases, federal laws to ensure that francophones across the country have the rights that have been improved in Bill C-23 but were in fact instituted by court challenges. Will the minister reconsider the efficacy of the court challenges program?

Finally and briefly, the imposition of a fine up to $10,000 on summary conviction offences from $2,000 is certainly to be lauded. This is a modernization of the reality of the effect of crime and the willingness to pay and the capacity to pay which must be judged by a judge. The judge's judicial discretion in deciding up to $10,000 in the capacity to pay area is something that acts totally against what the government has done to the judiciary. It was held up, I learned today, and it completely delayed bringing back the discussion in the House of the pay packages for our judges, ripping them of their discretion when it comes to Bill C-9 and Bill C-10, and yet in this case lauding the fact that we are increasing the discretion to $10,000 on summary conviction offences when in fact every other step of the government and the Minister of Justice has been an attack on the judiciary and its wise use of discretion.

Those are three little questions on which I will await the minister's response with apt attention.