House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. member for his point of order. The hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River has the floor. He knows that he has three minutes left and I am sure he will get back on the subject.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank you very much, because that is not even close to a point of order in the rudiments of democracy.

Many seniors have called my constituency offices because they did not understand why the Canada pension plan cheques were reduced. It very clearly proves that the minority Conservative government raised their taxes so that upper income Canadians could save hundreds of dollars on their new cars and yachts.

The issue at hand proposes a significant change in the premise of our justice system. Whose justice system are the Conservatives using as an example of how this change works in other countries? The United States has similar legislation, commonly referred to as three strikes legislation. This was touted as a deterrent to repeat offences. In reality, all the legislation has done is cost millions more for the justice system while producing very little change in crime rates.

A professor at the Centre of Criminology confirmed that a large amount of research in the United States has been overwhelmingly consistent in showing that these changes in sentencing have no effect. In terms of deterrence, it is just nonsense. Professor Doob warns of another hidden cost in that defendants who face the prospect of an indefinite prison term will rarely plead guilty, forcing the court system to absorb the cost of lengthy trials.

Let us recap. The legal community has denounced these proposed changes as unconstitutional. The government has not sought input from experts to ensure the proposal is what is needed. Similar legislation has not worked in other countries. This will add further burdens on our already overtaxed justice system. There is potential for accused criminals to be released due to delays that infringe on individuals' charter rights. We are adding a fiscal burden to the provinces without providing additional fiscal resources for these expenses.

Clearly, the media has really understood this very well when it talked about how the previous attorney general may dream of hitting a home run with his three strikes and you are out legislation, but U.S. experience suggests he is more likely to be thrown out at home plate.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, our Liberal colleague made all kinds of statements. He even went so far as to say that sentences are not effective and that putting people in prison is pointless. That may be true for Liberals, but for most people, fear of ending up in prison can be a great deterrent.

Perhaps my colleague is unfamiliar with something that happened in Quebec City. A man by the name of Bastien killed a 12-year-old child. The body was found half-buried in a sandbox. Those parents are still mourning the loss of their son. At the time of the murder, Mr. Bastien was supposed to have been in prison. How do you explain that? What are we doing?

I would have liked to have asked a lot of questions. We cannot compare our system to the Americans'. We are talking about serious sentences, not minor criminal issues. We are talking about major offences. Comparing that to what is happening in the United States is misguided. What message are we sending to the parents of Mr. Bastien's young victim?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, at no time did I ever say that a prison sentence was not a deterrent. I believe very strongly in that.

Indeed, although I may not be a lawyer, since the late seventies, in my role as an elected official, I have received numerous awards for my work in crime prevention. I understand these issues very much on a personal level from dealing with victims of crime and in proposing programs that actually work to help people, so I take great offence that I would be misquoted so dramatically and so erroneously.

When we think of what our system is meant to do, clearly if we really want to solve a problem, when there are issues of chronic offenders, then we use the system to all its weight and justice. Can we imagine us going back to trial by battle-axe or boiling oil? We know with certainty that the three strikes legislation has not worked and has led to an 18% increase in prison occupancy with a marginal decrease in crime.

Therefore, we have to worry, given the expense of it, whether it will have an impact. Clearly, without having any consultations with the justice community, with even the victims of crime, these are the types of things that we have to do.

As I speak to people, it may on the surface sound like another one of those glorious things that we are going to wrap up and put away, and maybe that plays well to a certain mentality. However, it all comes down to once individuals have been falsely accused, they are sure going to hope that the justice system works for them. I believe strongly in that and I hope that answers the member's question.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue has one minute remaining for his question and the answer.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, as a lawyer and defence attorney, I am accustomed to asking short questions.

I would like to thank my colleague for answering the question. I would add that my colleague opposite would be well-advised to look closely at the law. Mr. Bastien was given a conditional release. The problem was not on the legal side of things; it had to do with the conditional release program.

Does my colleague agree that we should look at the conditional release program to find a solution to the problem raised by our Conservative friends?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Thunder Bay--Rainy River should know that the hon. member has left him 10 seconds to respond to the question.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good point.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace). This bill is a significant step to strengthen the existing provisions of the Criminal Code that allow us to protect families from high risk offenders who are likely to commit violent or sexual crimes in our communities.

The provinces, territories and other stakeholders have all asked for reforms. I first want to deal with the existing provisions of the Criminal Code on recognizance to keep the peace, and on preventing sexual offences involving children, serious offences involving violence, or offences of a sexual nature. I will then deal with the technical amendments and, finally, with the substantive amendments proposed in the bill regarding these provisions.

Currently, recognizances to keep the peace come under sections 810.1 and 810.2 of the Criminal Code.

Under the existing legislation, the purpose of a recognizance to keep the peace under section 810.1, is to prevent sexual offences against children under the age of 14 years. The offences listed include sexual touching, invitation to sexual touching and incest.

The purpose of a recognizance to keep the peace under section 810.2 is to prevent a person from being the victim of a serious personal injury offence. The expression “serious personal injury offence” is defined as follows in section 752 of the Criminal Code:

752(a) an indictable offence...involving

(i) the use...of violence

(ii) conduct endangering or likely to endanger the life or safety of another person or inflicting or likely to inflict severe psychological damage on another person, and for which the offender may be sentenced to imprisonment for ten years or more, or

(b) an offence or attempt to commit an offence...sexual assault,...sexual assault with a weapon...aggravated sexual assault...

Currently, anyone may lay an information before a provincial court judge to have a defendant required to enter into a recognizance to keep the peace under section 810.1 or 810.2.

In order to require a defendant to enter into such a recognizance under one of these provisions, the judge must be satisfied that the informant has reasonable grounds to fear that the defendant will commit one of the listed sexual offences against a child under the age of 14 years, or will inflict serious injury.

When a judge orders that the defendant enter into a recognizance to keep the peace, that measure can be imposed for a period of up to 12 months. Furthermore, the judge can order the defendant to comply with certain other conditions.

For example, in the case of a recognizance to keep the peace imposed under section 810.1, intended to prevent sexual offences committed against children under 14, a judge can currently impose the following conditions, prohibiting the defendant from:

...engaging in any activity that involves contact with persons under the age of fourteen years, including using a computer system for the purpose of communicating with a person under the age of fourteen years;

...attending a public park or public swimming area where persons under the age of fourteen years are present or can reasonably be expected to be present, or a daycare centre, schoolground, or playground.

As for a recognizance to keep the peace under section 810.2, the judge can impose conditions that prohibit the defendant from possessing any firearms or ammunition.

If the defendant fails to enter into a recognizance to keep the peace, the judge can impose a prison sentence to a maximum of 12 months. If the defendant enters into the recognizance but fails to comply with the conditions set, he or she can face charges under section 811 of the Criminal Code and be sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison.

These two kinds of recognizance to keep the peace give law enforcement officials the tools they need to protect our citizens from high-risk offenders who are likely to commit a sexual offence against our children or a serious personal injury offence.

I have briefly outlined the current regime applicable in the case of recognizances to keep the peace pursuant to sections 810.1 and 810.2. I would now like to look at amendments proposed by Bill C-27 to these provisions.

At present, there are some differences between the texts of sections 810.1 and 810.2. Although there are definitely differences with regard to the type of persons targeted by these sections, a majority of the changes in wording have posed problems for the courts required to interpret them.

Some technical amendments in Bill C-27 seek to solve these problems of interpretation and to respond to the related requests by provinces and territories, that wished to have amendments resulting in greater consistency between the two existing sections.

For example, existing section 810.2 states that a provincial court judge may order that the defendant enter into a recognizance to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, whereas section 810.1 states that the judge may order that the defendant enter into a recognizance but does not specify its nature. Clause 5 of this bill adds: “to keep the peace and be of good behaviour” to section 810.1, making it consistent with section 810.2.

In addition, the current version of the sections on keeping the peace does not specify the same types of conditions that a judge can impose when he orders the defendant to enter into a recognizance to keep the peace. These inconsistencies are addressed by clauses 5 and 6 of Bill C-27.

For example, once Bill C-27 goes into effect, the judge will have to decide, in the case of two types of recognizances to keep the peace, if it is desirable in the interest of public safety to prohibit the defendant from having certain objects in his possession, namely firearms, and if it is desirable for the defendant to report to the provincial correctional authorities or the police.

I have dealt briefly with the technical amendments to the provisions of the bill on recognizance to keep the peace. I would now like to talk about the substantive amendments, which are designed to strengthen these sections of the Criminal Code.

As I have mentioned, under sections 810.1 and 810.2, the judge can order the defendant to enter into a recognizance to keep the peace for a maximum of 12 months. Bill C-27 seeks to extend this period to 24 months under certain circumstances, for both types of recognizance.

The amendments propose that, in the case of a recognizance to keep the peace under section 810.1, which is intended to prevent offences against children under the age of 14, the judge can order the defendant to enter into a recognizance for a maximum of 24 months if the defendant was convicted previously of a sexual offence in respect of a person under the age of 14. Similarly, a recognizance to keep the peace under section 810.2, which is intended to prevent serious personal injury, can be imposed for a maximum of 24 months if the defendant was previously convicted of a serious personal injury offence.

The amendments that double the duration of the two types of recognizance to keep the peace are designed to ensure that repeat sex offenders are subject to a longer monitoring period. They are also designed to reduce the chance the offenders will take advantage of the inadvertent expiry of a recognizance to keep the peace, as in the case of Peter Whitmore. Canadians want to feel safe in their communities.

Doubling the duration of a recognizance for repeat offenders will better protect the public.

Under the existing provisions, sections 810.1 and 810.2 provide that the judge may order that the defendant comply with all reasonable conditions prescribed in the recognizance. These conditions, which are often added by judges to keep children and other persons safe, include prohibiting the defendant from having contact with the potential victim or from going to certain places, and requiring the defendant to report on a regular basis to police or probation officers, but they are not specifically set out in sections 810.1 and 810.2.

The changes proposed in Bill C-27 would specify that not only the conditions in sections 810.1 and 810.2 may be imposed—for instance, prohibiting the defendant from having contact with certain persons as part of the conditions of a recognizance under section 810.1 and prohibiting the defendant from possessing any firearm as part of the conditions of a recognizance under section 810.2—but other more general conditions may also be imposed.

The proposed amendments would specify additional conditions with respect to both types of recognizance, including conditions that require the defendant to participate in a treatment program; to wear an electronic monitoring device; to remain within a specified geographic area unless written permission to leave that area is obtained from the provincial court judge; to return to and remain at his or her place of residence at specified times; and to abstain from the consumption of drugs, alcohol or any other intoxicating substance.

In conclusion, high risk offenders who are likely to commit sexual offences or violent offences constitute a serious threat to the safety and security of—

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé for questions and comments.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by the hon. Conservative member. There need to be some statistics. The purpose of this bill is to ensure better public safety. It proposes that after three major crimes, the burden of proof should be on the accused, contrary to what the justice system currently requires.

In the United States, the system works the way the bill proposes our system would work. Nonetheless, there are seven times more homicides in the United States than in Quebec and Canada. In my opinion, it is not by sending more people to prison, as this bill proposes to do, that we will resolve the problems of crime.

This bill should also promote rehabilitation and crime prevention by addressing causes such as poverty and violence. More punishment will not help matters. We are not against ensuring public safety, but keeping people in prison longer does not rehabilitate them.

I would like to know what my colleague has to say about that.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find my colleague's question a bit odd. I did not talk about three times, I talked about 14 years, the age of consent for sexual relations. Perhaps we should go over this again.

As far as the comparison to the United States is concerned, once again, the Bloc is making crude comparisons. It is short on details because there is no possible link between what is being proposed here in Canada and what is currently in effect in the United States.

We are talking about serious criminal offences: death threats, aggravated assault. Can the Bloc member tell me what we should do with someone who is caught three times in the process of beating someone senseless with a crowbar?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague made a very strong case for the bill.

I was quite disturbed by the comments made by the Liberal member who spoke a few moments ago about how a bill like this might apply to a certain mentality. I find that very degrading to Canadians who look for a government to strengthen the justice system. The bill does that and does it very emphatically.

We just heard a member across the way ask how the bill would help rehabilitate. In my view rehabilitation is a good outcome, but it is not why we send people to prison in the first place. We do that to keep our communities safer. Prisons were created for that reason.

Does my hon. colleague think the safety of the public should trump the rehabilitation of criminals?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, how much time do I have to answer the question?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member has one minute and fifteen seconds.