House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, a recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 28, 2007, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

The House resumed from November 23 consideration of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of Motion No. 2.

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Noon

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, at report stage of Bill C-2, to deliver some comments to the omnibus crime bill.

I have had the experience of serving on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and also the legislative committees that were involved with the former Bills C-10, C-22, C-27, C-32, C-35 and C-23, which is not part of the omnibus bill.

I speak with experience at least with respect to the bills and I understand how we came to be here today to speak about what the bill contains. A lot of discussion took place in the debates of the House and in committee with respect to the direction we should take with respect to our criminal justice.

It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to consider what we do when we amend the Criminal Code and its corollary acts. We are dealing with the Criminal Code. It is an organic document. It changes with the times. It is copied and exemplified by one of Canada's justice ministers and prime ministers, Sir John Thompson, from eastern Canada. It has certainly changed with the times as has our society.

In the 1890s the crimes that were top priority might have been things like cattle and horse theft, murder and some common ones. However, with the changing times, we have seen a proliferation of gang related violence, e-crimes, things that would not have existed at the turn of the century.

The point of raising that is as our society changes and the code changes, we owe it to this place, to the committees, to the law enforcement official, which include prosecutors, policemen, probation workers, corrections officers, people in the correction system and judges, quite a fraternity of people involved in the criminal justice system, to say that we looked at these various laws. We looked at how Canada was changing and at the end, we did the very best we could to keep track of what tools would be best to tackle the new problems that exist in society. It is not as if we are inventing new aspects of law. Many of these bills represent an evolution or a progression of laws that already exist.

Just briefly on the guts of the bill, if you like, Mr. Speaker, Bill C-10, which is now part of C-2, was of course dealing with the mandatory minimum provisions which were increased by the introduction of this bill, but they were not increased as much as the government had wanted them to be originally.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the opposition Bloc Québécois critic on the committee as well as the Liberal members on the committee who fought very hard to have some sense reign over the debate with respect to the evidence that was adduced at the committee hearings regarding the efficacy of mandatory minimums in general.

A review is in order. Mandatory minimums existed before the Conservative government was elected. Mandatory minimums were in place for serious crimes with the known aspect of repeat offenders and with some hope, which studies will show one way or the other, that there might be a deterrent and a safety to the public aspect of mandatory minimums.

At least on this side we joined with the Conservatives who, I would say, were very sparse in their acknowledgement that mandatory minimums existed before they came into office, but we joined with them and said that these are good tools for the law enforcement agencies and good tools in the realm of criminal justice.

It is a matter always of how far we go. How far do we go in disciplining our children? Do we take away their favourite toy? Do we ban them from seeing their friends for two weeks? Are we less severe or more severe? Many of us are parents and we deal with this every day. It is our form of the justice system that rules in our own house.

With respect to mandatory minimums, it is a question of calibrating to what extent the mandatory minimums are useful, to what extent do they work, and to what extend should they be increased, if at all.

During the debate process we were very successful in getting the government to get off its basic premise, which is if it is good for the six o'clock news and sounds robust, steady and law and orderish, then it has to be good in the Criminal Code. That is where the slip from the cup to the lip occurred, where it was obvious 90% of the witnesses were saying that the severe mandatory minimums that the government side were proposing would be inefficacious.

We can be as tough as we want, but if it does not work, if it does not make society safer, then we have not posited a good solution to the problems that face our community, and that was the case when we looked at mandatory minimums.

The happy medium that exists in Bill C-2 I think will be borne out, but it is very important to remember that this is an organic process and we could be back here some day soon, perhaps, looking at mandatory minimums in general.

How more timely could it be than in today's Ottawa Citizen, a report called “Unlocking America” is reviewed. In this report, it makes it very clear that the mandatory minimums, one of the many tools used by the American government from the 1970s on when it was felt that the rise in criminal activity was abhorrent, was not as effective as the Americans would have hope it would have been. It left the United States with 2.2 million people behind bars, more than China. The nine authors, leading U.S. criminologists, said that they were convinced that they needed a different strategy.

I am happy to report that as a result of the efforts of the NDP, Bloc and the Liberal Party in general at committee, we did not go as far as the Conservative government wanted to, which was close to where the United States had been which now New York State and New York City admits, is ineffective.

The three effects of imprisonment, and emphasis only on imprisonment, at the cost of crime prevention dollars, if you like, Mr. Speaker, is that the heavy, excessive incarceration hits minorities very hard. In the United States, 60% of the prison population is made up of Blacks and Latinos.

We heard evidence at our committee that there is a preponderance, an over-exaggerated percentage, of first nations and aboriginal people in our jail system, according to their population, which is deplorable. It is overwhelming and undisputed that the negative side effects of incarceration outweigh the potential. That is the two bits on Bill C-10,

On the other bill, Bill C-22, the close in age exemption, was never brought up. Despite all the rhetoric from the government, nothing would save Bill C-22. The issue of sexual consent being given by a person of tender years has never been put forward by any member of the opposition while the Liberal Party was in power.

The close in age exemption was never put in there, so for members of the opposite side to say that finally we dealt with the issue of sexual exploitation of 14 year olds is simply not accurate. The close in age exemption, five years between a person of the age specified, will save many relationships that should not be criminalized.

Lastly, I noted that Bill C-23 was not included in Bill C-2. I have to wonder why.

I live in Acadia. And Bill C-23 included many improvements with respect to choosing the first language of prosecutors during a trial. French is the language spoken by most people in my province. That element was very important to us in Acadia, but the government overlooked this fact.

Why did the government turn its back on the francophone people of New Brunswick in this country?

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12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, it was interesting to listen to my colleague's speech on this bill. I personally looked over the bill and we discussed it in caucus. This bill is obviously more of a political move by the Conservatives. The majority of its components were contained in bills presented in the previous session, before the House prorogued.

Several of the bills had even reached the final stage, the Senate. They have now been rolled into one piece of legislation to give the appearance that the Conservatives are leading the charge and know where they are going. In reality, this bill contains many things which, for the most part, had already received a broad-based consensus. In the last session, the Bloc Québécois was in favour of many of the bills and at least three of the five components.

Does my colleague not find that the government's current approach—I am not referring to the substance of each of the components of the bill but the manner in which the government has decided to manage this issue—is designed to serve the interests of the Conservatives rather than to truly serve the interests of justice?

We could have done without the fanfare, brought back most of the bills to the stage they had reached and proceeded with each file, without repeating the whole process again.

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12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I agree almost entirely with the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup. Of course, these bills have already been discussed in committee. I do not know why the government decided to bring back Bill C-2. Perhaps it is because the Conservatives need another excuse to get in front of a television camera, as part of their repertoire; who knows?

On the other hand, some improvements have been made to these pieces of legislation. My hon. colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River will talk about the improvements in Bill C-27 a little later. Some of the amendments that were initially rejected by the government now have its support. We worked on these proceedings with all the diligence and hard work worthy of this Parliament and I am proud of our work.

The hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup was right when he said that this is almost entirely a political exercise on the part of the Conservatives, who are serving their own interests through television, but it is not a political exercise that serves the interests of the Criminal Code, the justice system or the social equity of this country.

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12:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have just a quick question. I was not quite sure of the point the member was making with regard to the age of consent and the fact that other people had not brought forth the issue of the near age defence.

He is correct to some degree. The Conservatives repeatedly, and I do not know how many private members' bills they had, moved those private members' bills on the basis that there would just be a blanket increase in age with no near age defence.

It was a result of questions quite frankly that I put to the former Liberal justice minister and elicited from him a response that showed in writing the number of people who would be exposed to criminal charges, both young men and young women. It would be in the range of 100,000 to 150,000 people per year who would have been exposed to criminal charges as a result of that type of legislation. It was at that point that the issue of the near age defence was raised.

I wonder if the member could comment on whether he was aware of that fact. That issue came up during the bill on child pornography and luring over the Internet.

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, historically and by footnote I suppose he is correct. What my comments were referring to very clearly were the comments from the Conservative opposition member, particularly from Wild Rose, who said that those private members' bills were never considered by Parliament or the government. In fact, they did not have a close in age exemption, so why would they be considered?

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November 26th, 2007 / 12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in today's debate at report stage of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Briefly, on October 18, the Minister of Justice tabled omnibus Bill C-2, which regroups the main “law and order“ bills that were introduced by the government, during the first session of the 39th Parliament.

Indeed, Bill C-2 includes defunct Bills C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act, C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace), C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, and C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences).

Those who are listening to us should know that this government bill provides nothing new. During the last session, I had the opportunity to take part in the debate and to express Quebec's vision on justice, as it relates to several of those bills.

In fact, before prorogation, three of those bills were already before the Senate, namely Bills C-10, C-22 and C-35. As for the other two, that is Bills C-27 and C-32, they were in the last stages of the parliamentary process in the House.

However, all these bills died on the order paper, when the Conservative government itself decided, for purely partisan motives, to end the parliamentary session and to present a new Speech from the Throne.

Today, we find ourselves debating again the work that has already been accomplished in the House. This is why, when the government pretends to be the only one going to bat for innocent people through rehashed and amended legislation, I cannot help but wonder about such a preposterous claim.

The people of Quebec deserve that crime be tackled seriously, without playing petty politics with fundamental rights, and, above all, they deserve to be presented with the real picture. For those interested in politics, I point out that the Bloc Québécois was fully involved in the review process for Bill C-2, in spite of the very tight timeframe, to consider all aspects of that bill. My colleagues and myself believe that any bill of such importance, which could have such a significant impact on the people, has to be thoroughly examined.

It would, however, be somewhat tedious to examine again amendments made previously. With respect to former bills C-10, C-22 and C-35, in our opinion, the parliamentary debate has already taken place and the House has already voted in favour of those bills. We therefore respect the democratic choice that has been made. As for former Bill C-32, which died on the order paper before report stage, we had already announced our intention: we would be opposing it. This brings me to the part stemming from former Bill C-27, about which we expressed serious reservations at the time but which we nonetheless examined in committee so that it would be reviewed responsibly.

In short, the provisions in Bill C-2 which stem from former Bill C-27 amend the Criminal Code to provide that the court shall find an offender who has been convicted of three serious crimes to be a dangerous offender, unless the judge is satisfied that the protection of society can be appropriately ensured with a lesser sentence.

At present, the dangerous offender designation is limited to very serious crimes, such as murder, rape and many others, and to individuals who present a substantial risk to reoffend. An individual may be found to be a dangerous offender on a first conviction, when the brutality and circumstances of the offence leave no hope of the individual ever being rehabilitated.

We have some concerns regarding Bill C-27, particularly the impact of designating a greater number of dangerous offenders and reversing the onus of proof, two processes that definitely increase the number of inmates and that are contrary to the wishes of Quebeckers as to how offenders should be controlled.

We are not the only ones who have expressed concerns with regard to this aspect of Bill C-27. My colleague for Windsor—Tecumseh is proposing an amendment today that would remove the reverse onus of proof found in this bill. He believes it would not survive a charter challenge. Even though we realize that this amendment could lead to improvements in Bill C-2, we will reject it because the Conservative government, in attempting to govern with contempt for the majority in the House of Commons, would link this amendment to a confidence vote.

With regard to amendments, I repeat that the Bloc Québécois is aware that many improvements must be made to the current judicial system and that changes to the Criminal Code are required. The government must intervene and use the tools at its disposal enabling citizens to live in peace and safety. In our own meetings with citizens we identified specific concerns as well as the desire to change things by using an original approach. We wanted to make a positive contribution meeting the aspirations of our fellow citizens.

We therefore proposed a number of amendments that my colleague the member for Hochelaga, right here, worked very hard on with the caucus. We prepared a series of amendments to improve the bill and the justice system. These are complementary measures that will strengthen its effectiveness.

We proposed, among other things, realistic amendments to eliminate parole being granted almost automatically after one-sixth of a sentence has been served and statutory release once two-thirds of a sentence has been served, by having a professional formally assess inmates regarding the overall risk of reoffending that they represent to the community.

Another amendment was aimed at attacking the street gang problem—with which my colleague from Hochelaga is very familiar—by giving the police better tools, in particular, by extending the warrants for investigations using GPS tracking.

We put forward many other amendments. Unfortunately, none of them was accepted, even though some amendments are unanimously supported by the public security ministers of Quebec and other provinces. Consequently, Bill C-2 was not amended in any way during committee review. It is a shame that the Conservative government once again preferred an approach based on ideology rather than democracy. It preferred to combine bills that, for the most part, had already been approved by the House of Commons, rather than focusing on some others that deserved very close examination. Above all, it is refusing to improve Bill C-2 with respect to practical priorities.

In putting forward its amendments, the Bloc Québécois has remained consistent with its objective of using effective and appropriate measures to evaluate the relevance of each bill. It has also demonstrated its concern for prevention of crime, which should be high priority. Attacking the deep-rooted causes of delinquency and violence, rather than cracking down when a problem arises is, in our opinion, a more appropriate and, above all, more profitable approach from both a social and financial point of view.

That must be very clear. The first step must be to deal with poverty, inequality and exclusion in all forms. These are the issues that create a fertile breeding ground for frustration and its outlets, which are violence and criminal activity.

However, it is essential that the measures presented should actually make a positive contribution to fighting crime. It must be more than just rhetoric or a campaign based on fear. It must be more than an imitation of the American model and its less than convincing results.

I mention the important fact that for the past 15 years criminal activity has been steadily decreasing in Quebec, as it has elsewhere in Canada. Statistics Canada confirmed just recently that for the year 2006 the overall crime rate in Canada was at its lowest level in more than 25 years. What is more, Quebec recorded the smallest number of homicides since 1962. Indeed, in violent crimes, Quebec ranks second, just behind Prince Edward Island. Quebec also recorded a drop of 4% in the crime rate among young people in 2006, which was better than all other provinces. Those are solid facts which should serve as an example to this government and on which it should base its actions.

I will close by saying that we will be supporting Bill C-2 at third reading, on its way to the Senate. However, I remind the House that we were in favour of four of the five bills that are now included in Bill C-2 and those bills would have already been far advanced in the parliamentary process if the government had not prorogued the House for purely partisan reasons.

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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her intervention in this debate as I know that she has followed these issues carefully at the committees. I believe she was also on the legislative committee that dealt with Bill C-2.

In looking over the testimony of the various experts that appeared before the committee, one of my concerns with regard to the reverse onus on the presumption of a dangerous offender designation after three serious crimes is that one of the witnesses raised the possibility that the courts might interpret that there would have to be three offences before a dangerous offender designation could be successfully obtained.

Is there a possibility that this legislation might lead the courts to believe that this designation should not happen on a first or second crime and that it would take a third crime before the possibility would kick in? If so, that is a very serious change to the kind of legislation we have now. Also, could she comment on why the legislation looks to a third conviction and does not increase resources or the possibilities of obtaining a dangerous offender designation after a serious first or second crime?

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12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, the dangerous offenders bill would make the following amendment. A third primary designated offence would trigger reverse onus, making the accused responsible for proving that he is not a danger to society. The dangerous offender principle remains the same for the other offences. A person may be declared a dangerous offender upon committing a first offence.

This bill would amend the legislation so that after three primary designated offences, onus is reversed. The list comprises 12 offences, so it would be too long to read here. This means that it is no longer up to the Crown to prove that an individual is a dangerous offender; it is up to the offender to prove that he is not.

I would note that this is a perilous undertaking, and a difficult one. Individuals must prove what they are not and must show that they will not pose a risk. Proving that one will not pose a risk in the future is next to impossible. As such, members of the Bloc Québécois find this proposal very unusual.

To get back to my colleague's question, a person can be declared a dangerous offender after the first or second offence. This bill only amends things with respect to the burden of proof. I would note that every step of the way, this Conservative government has been introducing legislation that reverses onus. We have to take a closer look at this because it is getting pretty serious.

Our criminal law system is based on presumption of innocence. It is becoming increasingly clear that with its various bills, this government is using a variety of excuses to constantly reverse onus in its attempt to distort the criminal law system that has been in place since the Constitution.

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12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup has one minute for the question and response.

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12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be quick.

I congratulate my colleague on her speech. She clearly showed us how much the Conservatives are trying to give the impression that they are taking a different approach. Yet, in fact, many bills had already gone through several stages during the last session and are now included in this bill.

I would like to know whether the Conservatives should not also be doing something about prevention and going much further on the whole issue of crime, rather than giving the impression that punishment is the answer. Should we not be paying even more attention to prevention in our approach to justice?