House of Commons Hansard #9 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.

Topics

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, anybody who has been in the House for any length of time knows the government controls the order paper. The order in which bills are brought forward is entirely in the hands of the government, and there is nothing the opposition parties can do in that regard. I sometimes think that is a mistake in our system. On the basis of democracy and in a minority government situation, that rule should not be there. Opposition parties should have more control over what comes before the House, but this is not the case. The government completely controls this.

The member is right in terms of bills sitting on the order paper, and I will use Bill C-27, the dangerous offender bill, as an example. It sat on the order paper for almost six months. The bill was introduced in the House in the fall of 2006 and did not get to a vote for second reading and go to committee until well into the spring of 2007. For a good six months, it just sat on the order paper. That is a good example of how backlogged the justice committee was at that point.

As I mentioned in my opening comments, a more efficient approach would have moved the bills along much faster. Let me just emphasize that point and explain what happens.

When bills get to justice committee, there is a tendency to call the same witnesses on specific points. I have been saying in the House that the bills should have been bunched together. The government should have done that originally. It cannot be done now because these bills would be delayed again.

The Canadian Bar Association was forced to appear before the justice committee eight or ten times. Representatives could probably have come once or maybe twice, spoken on all the points and given us their input.

This goes back to consultation in terms of the member's question. The Conservative government has refused to consult with a number of groups because I think it sees them as ideologically unfriendly. Conservatives talk to members of police associations, but do they talk Canadian Bar Association? Maybe some. Do they talk to criminal defence lawyers, who have some significant input to provide on these bills? Hardly at all.

I could go down the list of some of the groups that deal with people who have been charged and convicted of crimes. For women, there is the Elizabeth Fry Society. For men, there is John Howard Society. The government does not talk too much to these people.

That delays the process at committee. These groups come forward at committee to tell us what they think the problems are with the legislation, and that is the first time we hear about it. Perhaps it could have been taken care of by consultation before it ever arrived at committee.

I have already mentioned the issue of street car racing. All parties in the House supported that and we put it through as quickly as we could.

With respect to the age of consent legislation, I fought with the former Conservative justice minister, my colleague from Manitoba, and convinced him that we should put it in. We tried to put it into the child pornography bill in 2005. It resurrected itself in the age of consent bill, Bill C-22, that finally came before the House. The bill went all the way to the Senate. Now it is back before the House and we have to go over it all again.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of respect for the knowledge that the member displays on these issues.

He seemed to indicate that there was a potential problem with the reverse onus part of the bill. I question that.

If a person comes up to me, points a gun at me, pulls the trigger and misses, and thankfully, to me he is a dangerous guy. I do not want to live next door to a guy like that. I would move away if he did not. That is just the first time.

The legislation being proposed has a person doing things of that nature, attacking women and children. He does it, not once, not twice, but three times. In each instance, we, the people, through the Crown, have already shown that he is dangerous because he was charged and convicted three times.

To me, the reverse onus is almost a misnomer here. We should not say that. Rather we should say that the person has proven to us and courts have convicted him of these charges three time. It is now just an automatic, he is a dangerous offender and ought to be put away for a long time. To me, that is a given.

Yet now we are somehow saying that reverse onus is a violation. Some people say it is because a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, he has been proven guilty three times.

What we ought to be doing is looking at this issue as giving this guy a chance when he really does not deserve it. If he can convince the court, after having been convicted three times, that he is not a dangerous offender, then he can somehow avoid being given that designation.

Could the member enlarge a bit on the nature of his objection to this?

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh should know that there is less than a minute for him to respond.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, it would probably have taken about 10 minutes for me to explain this to the member and perhaps to the public watching.

I have two quick points. The dangerous offender section in the code has been used about 300 and some times. When this happens, when people are found to be dangerous offenders, they go to jail and they never get out. I believe only about 18 out of 350 have ever been released. This is what we are faced with.

We should imagine ourselves as a judge having to tell people that they have to prove why they should not go to jail because this is what the Criminal Code states that.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating what the government considers to be the most important component of the throne speech presented a few days ago, Bill C-2.

First of all, there is a myth that I would like to dispel. On several occasions the members on the government side have unfortunately taken some liberties with the truth. They have suggested that, in this Parliament, the opposition parties—the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP—did not cooperate, that they acted like spoilsports and had unduly and excessively delayed passage of the justice bills. We need to set the record straight. This presentation of the facts is false, dishonest and, at the very least, misleading.

Since coming into power in January 2006, the Conservative government has tabled 12 justice bills. They were studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the legislative committee and six of them have received royal assent. Therefore, since the government came into office in January 2006, six bills have been adopted and received royal assent.

I will mention them quickly, for information purposes: Bill C-9, on conditional sentencing; Bill C-17, on the salaries of judges; Bill C-18, on the DNA data bank; Bill C-19, which was meant as a tribute to a Conservative member who unfortunately passed away, and which makes street racing a new offence under the Criminal Code; the fifth bill, namely Bill C-48, on the United Nations Convention against Corruption and on international crime, was fast-tracked and supported by all opposition parties and the government; finally, the sixth one, is Bill C-59, creating a new offence, under the Criminal Code, for the unauthorized recording of a movie in a movie theatre. That legislation was quickly passed, at the request of the Bloc Québécois, which had enlisted the support of the official opposition and of the NDP.

Again, of the 12 bills introduced by the government, six received royal assent. That left six, with four of them being in the Senate. That was the case for Bill C-10, on minimum penalties for offences involving firearms, and for Bill C-22, on the age of protection. The Conservatives proposed to raise the age of protection from 14 to 16 years. As mentioned earlier, opposition parties requested that a close in age provision be included, to provide for a difference of five or two years, depending on the age being considered.

As I just mentioned, Bill C-10 and Bill C-22 were before the Senate. Bill C-23, which is a rather technical bill on the language used during a trial before a jury, was also before the Senate, as was Bill C-35, dealing with the reverse onus, at the pre-trial hearing, for a number of very serious offences. The committee was told that this was already the usual practice, and that a justice of the peace or a superior court judge very rarely grants bail at the pre-trial hearing, when the individual is accused of murder, assault or sexual assault. This was already an established practice.

In summary, six bills have been passed and have received royal assent, and four had already gone through third reading in the House of Commons and were in the Senate. This left us with two bills: the dangerous offenders bill, Bill C-27, which I will address later, and Bill C-32 dealing with impaired driving.

Could the Prime Minister and the Conservative team be asked to be a little more relaxed and show a more nuanced and respectful attitude toward the opposition?

We are going to do our job. In the past, we have given the government our cooperation when that was necessary, but we have introduced amendments because, unfortunately, an entire segment of the Conservative caucus has no idea of nuances. I will give examples. Had Bill C-32 been passed as written, without amendments, anyone driving his or her own car with a passenger on board who was in possession of a small amount of marijuana could have faced prosecution or arrest.

Was that the purpose of the legislation? This bill was intended to address a public safety issue, recognizing that no one should be operating a vehicle on public roadways while under the influence of drugs, and to allow for drivers to be subjected to standardized tests known as standardized field sobriety tests. The intention certainly was not to pass legislation to target drivers carrying drugs without their knowledge. That could happen. I could give three people a ride to my cottage without knowing that one of them has marijuana in his or her pocket. This would have made me liable to prosecution.

This is the sort of excess the Conservatives are guilty of, when we are talking about a bill, a motivation, and an intent that are utterly defensible in terms of public policy. But when the Conservatives are left to their own devices, when they are ruled by that extreme wing of their caucus and blinded by the idea of law and order, they come up with bills that have to be amended.

Conditional sentencing has been mentioned. When we began looking at Bill C-9, the first justice bill the Conservatives introduced—the member for London West will recall—we were told that conditional sentences represented only 5% of sentences.

If you look at all the sentences handed down in all the courts in Canada in recent years for which records have been kept, you see that conditional sentences, which allow offenders to serve their sentence in the community under supervision, represented only 5% of sentences.

If we had adopted the bill as introduced by the Conservatives, all offences punishable by more than two years in prison might have been excluded from this tool judges have for determining how a sentence can be served in the community.

I repeat that I am extremely disappointed with the attitude of the Prime Minister, who asks the opposition to vote for bills, but will not tolerate any amendments to those bills. How can anyone be so authoritarian? How can anyone be so cavalier? How can anyone be so disrespectful of Canadian democracy and tell the 57% or 58% of Canadians who did not elect Conservative members that if their representatives do not fall into line with the Conservative platform, they cannot introduce amendments in this House?

I assure my colleagues that we are going to consider the issue and that we will work very quickly, with all due diligence. And we will introduce amendments if we feel that they are in the interest of the people we represent.

The government wants this bill to go to committee quickly. The leaders have agreed on this. Later today, the whip will introduce a motion, and once again we have offered to cooperate.

Next week, we will have this bill before us, but we will not allow ourselves to be led by the nose by this government. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they were intractable and often mean-spirited. They constantly, systematically filibustered. Never have I seen such filibustering. Sometimes it went on day and night.

The current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food did the filibustering. He led this House in circles regarding employment equity. At the time, I was a young, naive and vulnerable member. I had just been elected and was experiencing my first filibuster. Furthermore, the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was uncompromising on the issue of employment equity, which was under the responsibility of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

They cannot have it both ways. A person cannot say that it is fine to filibuster when they are in opposition, only to turn around, once they are in the governing party, and refuse the opposition's right to present amendments. This is irresponsible and disrespectful.

Bill C-2 merges five pieces of legislation. Of those pieces of legislation, the Bloc Québécois supported four of them, with amendments. In committee, of course, we will not ask to repeat the work that has already been done.

However, we have a problem with Bill C-27, concerning dangerous offenders. As we all know, the Criminal Code has included provisions on this matter since 1947. In the past, we did not use the term dangerous offender, but rather habitual criminal. I wonder whether certain members, those who have been practising law for some time, remember that expression. The Liberals already changed those provisions by creating a new category of dangerous offenders—long-term offenders—in Bill C-55.

What is our line of questioning? I would like to be clear. I am telling the government that the Bloc Québécois would like to see three main groups of witnesses. First, we would like to hear constitutional experts on the constitutionality of the reverse onus principle, in the same terms in which this bill was presented.

We would then like to see a second group of witnesses. I would remind the House that when the Minister of Justice appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he was unable to tell us what it is about the administrative and judicial process for dangerous offenders that is not working.

Currently, a person can be labelled a dangerous offender after committing a first serious offence. Section 753 of the Criminal Code is very clear. If there is any reason to believe that that an individual is likely to cause a death, is out of control, or is likely to reoffend, that person can be declared a dangerous offender after a first offence. I am not saying that this is what usually happens. We are not talking about a large number of people here. About 350 people have been declared dangerous offenders, and some of them have been released under mandatory supervision. Of course, most of them are inside federal prisons.

We will run this by constitutional experts. It is our responsibility to ensure that this bill is not unconstitutional. We will ask people who make their living dealing with this issue before the courts to explain to us which parts of the current legislation are not working.

We will also ask a third group of witnesses about the list of offences. In the bill before us today, five types of offences would result in an individual being declared a dangerous offender. Naturally, most of them are serious crimes, such as attempted murder, murder, homicide and serious sexual crimes.

The government wants to expand this list to include 42 offences. The preliminary list includes 22 offences, one of which is assault. I do not wish to downplay the importance of assault. However, should an individual who has been convicted of assault three times be put on a list of dangerous offenders, with all of the consequences that entails?

There is a list of designated offences, which, I agree, are offences generally punishable by a sentence of more than five years. The question is, do we need to take this further? Is it important to have these two lists of offences?

Why ask this question? We are not questioning the fact that we need provisions in the Criminal Code for people who are so dangerous and present such a risk of recidivism that they need to be designated long term offenders, or dangerous offenders. A dangerous offender is someone who can be imprisoned for an indefinite period. Obviously, they are denied their freedom and denied eligibility for parole. Certainly—and I am not afraid to say so—this is justified in some situations. We understand that for some individuals there is no chance for rehabilitation and they have to be imprisoned for an indeterminate period.

Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to ensure that if we are going to pass legislation that considerably broadens the scope of this rule—which is in fact an exception to the general rule—then we have to be able to verify the facts in committee in order to make sure there is no risk of abuse or excess.

As hon. members know, the Conservatives are driven by partisan political considerations. That is “partisan” with a capital “P”.

As it stands, the crime rate has gone down in Canada. In any event, the homicide rate has gone down. The incidence of violent crime has gone down. I am not saying there has not been a worrisome increase in property crime in certain communities. However, generally speaking, we know full well that for a number of years now, major crime, such as homicide—crimes involving violence—has gone down year after year.

Criminologists who have studied these issues are saying that there is no correlation between a reliance on imprisonment and lower crime rates in a society. We do not live in a safer society and the communities are not safer because of widespread prison sentencing.

We know that the United States has an incarceration rate seven times greater than Canada's. In Canada, there are 132 or 134 prisoners for every 100,000 people.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

It is now 108.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

The member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin says that it is now 108. The last time I checked, in the United States it was 732. We can see the numbers and we know very well that the United States has a much higher crime rate than Canada and than Quebec, which certainly has a lower rate.

In conclusion, we will do our job. Obviously, we will offer our help to the government every time these problems come up. We realize this is important. But I would ask the Prime Minister to be a little more Zen when it comes to justice matters. We will introduce amendments if we think it would be in line with the current practices in Quebec.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, as I have done with all the speeches this afternoon, I listened with great interest to the words of my colleagues from the opposition parties. I would like to take this opportunity to perhaps correct some of the motives the member attributes to the Conservative government in bringing forward this tackling violent crime act, Bill C-2, and then pose a question.

Toward the end of his remarks he asserted that our government is driven by partisan political considerations. I would like to state for the record that no, what we are driven by here is to try to reform our justice system or, maybe more appropriately, that we are driven by a desire to restore fairness and justice to our legal system in this country.

That is the real reason behind the fact that in our short-lived government we have brought forward so many new initiatives in the justice department. In fact, he mentioned the fact that we brought forward a dozen bills alone in this Parliament already.

The other fallacy that I would like to quickly correct for the record is this whole business that somehow by combining these bills we are going to delay them. The fact is, and my colleague clearly identified this, Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, encompasses some five previous bills. I will run through them very quickly.

Previously, Bill C-10, mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences, was stalled in committee for 252 days and the bill died after a total of 414 days before Parliament.

Bill C-22, age of protection, was stalled in committee for 175 days and the bill died after a total of 365 days before Parliament.

Bill C-27, dangerous offenders, was stalled in committee for 105 days and the bill died after a total of 246 days before Parliament.

Bill C-35, reverse onus on bail for firearms offences, was stalled in committee for 64 days and the bill died after a total of 211 days before Parliament.

Finally, Bill C-32, drug impaired driving, was stalled in committee for 149 days and the bill died after a total of 210 days before Parliament.

I think Canadians are waking up to the fact that a lot of these bills were stalled in the upper chamber in our parliamentary system. What are we talking about? We are talking about an unelected, unaccountable, Liberal dominated Senate. In other words, an upper chamber dominated by our process in this Parliament by the opposition.

Obviously, even the temporary current leader of the official opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party, has no control over the Senate. He has no control over his colleagues over there in getting this legislation moved forward.

In the last election campaign, all four parties running in the election said they wanted to get tough with violent crime. Yet, when we put this legislation through, the Liberals allowed it to be stalled over there. What have we done? We have combined them because the Senate will be less able to stall one or two bills because Canadians will be awakened to the fact that if the Liberals stall Bill C-2, they will clearly understand that the Liberal Party has never been serious about violent crime. It says one thing but does the opposite.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must inform the House that our colleague did not tell us the whole truth.

First, with regard to Bill C-27, the committee met three times. We cannot say that we will adopt a bill after three committee meetings. The committee had just been formed when the House adjourned.

The government whip speaks of Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The fact is that we did not block the bill and, what is more, we were at report stage. We had agreed in committee that the chair would table a report. If the whip was in such a hurry to pass the bills, then why did his Prime Minister prorogue the House? We were ready to return and study these bills.

I believe that is a myth. The opposition parties co-operated with the government. However, we will not allow this government to tell the opposition parties that they will not do their job. And when we deem it appropriate, we will amend the bill.

I was not elected on the Conservative's platform. I was democratically elected, with 60% of the votes in my riding, as an alternative to the Conservatives. We will do our work. If we believe it necessary, we will amend the bill.

The Prime Minister must be more democratic.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that this particular member from the Bloc, who has participated in the debate, does work very hard on justice bills. I served with him for a time on Bill C-9. That was a bill that we worked on and it was amended by the three opposition parties. It passed the House and went on from this place because it was improved. That is the whole point of going to committee and hearing witnesses.

I know that there are situations that even when the government introduces a bill that it thinks is perfect, that some things can slip by. Even the government can make errors. I think of the example currently where we have disenfranchised rural members under the Canada Elections Act because things were not done properly. It even went through committee and even at that stage it was not picked up. But the government has a responsibility and there is a democratic process in the House, that we deal expeditiously with bills in committee.

Most of the bills could have been in the Senate right now. They could have been reintroduced in the Senate, but we know that they have already passed second reading so we want them to get to committee so that they can be dealt with more rapidly.

When a government makes mistakes like it has just done with respect to the Canada Elections Act, it now has to have a new piece of legislation. We introduce amendments because the government is not infallible when it first introduces legislation.

There used to be a court challenges program whereby an individual or group could challenge government legislation even if it had passed all the stages in the House and Senate but we no longer have that.

Does the member think that some of these issues have to be dealt with practically, logically and completely, not just in an undemocratic way where a prime minister says he needs everything and needs it yesterday? Is it not our job to make good law, good policy and do it properly?

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I fondly remember a time when we both sat on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

It would be true to say that the Prime Minister has hurt us all. Opposition members have all been hurt by this heavy-handedness. Which British principle is vital to the operation of the House? The role of the opposition is to work to make the government even better. Each day, every single member leaves this House feeling tired and worn out, because it is hard work to make this government even better. The government is terrible when left to its own devices. This is the British parliamentary system. The opposition improves bills. The opposition must cast a critical light on this government which wants to model our justice system indiscriminately on the American system.

I would remind the House that we worked together on 12 bills. I am counting on the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to say so in the speeches he will give in Quebec. Of the 12 bills, six have already received royal assent and four others were before the Senate. So, only two remained in this House. Furthermore, of the six bills that received royal assent, three were fast-tracked to adoption. I remember a time when this government was in the opposition. There was no end to the filibusters. Now, the opposition is respectful, restrained and able to work with the government when necessary.

In conclusion, I want to point out that St. Thomas Aquinas once said that virtue lies in moderation.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I assume that the time for questions and comments has expired.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. We would be happy to adopt our colleague's motion. However, as a matter of courtesy and since it is Friday, could we allow one last colleague, the member from the Ottawa area, to ask a question? The hon. member has served this House well. Could he ask the last question? As he is a friend, I would be very happy to debate this with him.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I have just said that the question and comment period is over. However, if I can find unanimous consent for this courtesy, I will agree. Is there unanimous consent?

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.