House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was employment.

Topics

The House resumed from February 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for North Vancouver.

It is an honour for me to rise in the House here today to discuss Bill C-35. I cannot understand why my Conservative friends on the other side continue to delay this bill becoming law.

I must point out that the Liberal Party has already gone a long way to putting in place laws to make the jobs of our men and women in uniform easier. I think of legislation like the anti-gangster law.

I would also like to point out that during the 13 years of the previous Liberal administration, we saw crime rates drop by more than 20% in some cases. This bill will only enhance those provisions that the Liberal Party has already provided.

Bill C-35 will make the streets safer by keeping criminals who use guns in prison, instead of out on bail to commit more crimes.

This is a bill I am proud to support and I cannot understand why my Conservative colleagues keep on postponing passage of this legislation.

This bill is designed to change the Criminal Code so that reverse onus will be required if an accused is charged of crimes with a gun. This bill will also be used against those charged with gun trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking or gun smuggling.

I would like to remind the House that it was the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard who brought me into this political arena. In the 2006 election he supported the idea of reverse onus bail hearings for gun related offences. I was proud to support this initiative with him then and I am proud to do so now.

The presumption of innocence and the right not to be denied bail without just cause are rights protected under the Charters of Rights and Freedoms. I firmly believe that this bill is in keeping with the spirit of the charter. It enhances our safety while still respecting our basic rights.

When I talk to people such as Chief Superintendent Fraser MacRae of the Surrey RCMP detachment or Chief Constable Jim Cessford of the Delta police department, I know how important is this legislation. I hear it everywhere from my constituents of Newton—North Delta. These voices from my riding of Newton--North Delta must be heard. It is so important that they be part of the process.

Why is the minority Conservative government not listening? These men and women, the ones on the street keeping us safe every day, are the ones who best understand what is needed to keep our homes, our families and our children safe. We must do all that we can to support them. That is why I am saddened by the cynical partisan games that the government is playing with such important legislation.

The official opposition has tried more than three times in the last six months to speed up many government bills dealing with justice issues. Each time the Conservative Party has shown that they are more interested in politicking than in actually passing their own legislation and making our families safer.

I would remind the House that it was my hon. colleague, the Liberal justice critic, who tabled a motion that proposed the immediate passing of four bills: Bill C-18, Bill C-22, Bill C-23 and Bill C-35, the very bill we are all here still debating today.

If it were not for this cynical government's obstruction, we could have sent all of this legislation to the Senate and put it on the fast track to becoming law. In one swoop we could have passed more than half of the government's entire justice agenda. We could have taken major steps in protecting our families and our communities, but the Conservative House leader raised a point of order to block the Liberal motion and caused more delays in passing serious anti-crime legislation.

Why will the government not take yes for an answer and pass its own legislation for the sake of our safety? The government knows that a majority of MPs in the House of Commons want to pass these bills and the government will just not stop dragging its feet.

The fact that the government is blocking its own legislation proves that it is not serious about crime. It only wants to use these bills as an election issue, not as a way to make our neighbours and communities safer. The Canadian people deserve better. They deserve a government that will not play politics with the Criminal Code.

The late Pierre Trudeau said, “just watch me”. Well, the Canadian people are watching. The people of the riding of Newton—North Delta are watching. The people are watching the government play politics with the safety of our children and families. Canadians and the good people of my riding of Newton—North Delta deserve better. They deserve a government and a leader who will put the safety of our families ahead of politics.

When I look at the justice platform put forward by the hon. Leader of the Opposition, I have hope that the government might also finally get one. The Liberal Party has proposed a new plan, one that would have a major impact on the way we approach safety and justice in our country. It is not enough to simply talk tough on crime and then do nothing as the minority Conservative government has done so far.

We must deal with every aspect of fighting crime on our streets. We must work to prevent crime. We must work to make it easier for our police to catch criminals. When criminals are caught we must work to see them convicted through competent and quick administration. When they are convicted we must work to rehabilitate those criminals, so that when they get out of prison they do not commit more crimes.

I would encourage the government and all members of the Conservative Party to support the legislation and also support the Liberal idea to fast track those bills that I mentioned earlier. I encourage them to support our men and women in uniform who keep our streets safer and to support the official opposition when it has the guts to do what must be done to see this legislation pass to improve our safety and justice system.

We want no more delays, no more partisan politics and tactics, and no more games. Let us get the job done. Canadians are counting on us.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's speech. One of the themes that he kept talking about was that we should be fast tracking some bills and so on.

I am just amazed at this because we had a number of bills introduced by our previous minister of justice and now our present Minister of Justice on strengthening the criminal justice system, on making sure that people who are repeat offenders are dealt with properly, and making sure that, as in this bill, people who commit gun related crimes are dealt with severely and quickly.

The member is pleading for us to fast track this legislation. As a matter of fact, it is the opposition that is preventing us from getting these bills through in a timely fashion. It is the opposition that is bringing in a bunch of amendments to our bills.

I was talking to some people in the riding last week. I told them these guys with their amendments are gutting the bills and then they are trying to serve us the guts. We want to have a real meaningful and workable plan to solve the criminal justice system.

I would like the member to simply give a commitment that he will help us, today for example, finish Bill C-35 and that we can get on with this. It is a very important agenda for the Canadian people.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member asked for my commitment. I certainly will be supporting this bill and will do anything possible on my part to help pass this legislation.

However, I would also remind the hon. member that if he was in the House the other day, the hon. critic for justice brought in a motion to speed up the legislation that I mentioned: Bill C-18, the DNA identification bill that would help police solve many missing persons cases; Bill C-22, the age of consent bill that would have made our children, our sons and daughters, safer; Bill C-23, the criminal procedures bill, a bill that would help to make our justice system more efficient; and Bill C-35, the reverse onus bill that we are debating today.

In fact, if the hon. member were here, he would have noticed that the House leader on the Conservative side raised a point of order not to support that option that we brought in to speed up not only one of those bills, but four of them.

I was in Surrey last month, where the mayor of Surrey along with all the stakeholders put a crime prevention strategy in place. In six months they are much further ahead of where we are today with the Conservative government delaying and playing politics. So, I would ask the hon. member to ask the House leader and his Conservative colleagues to support and get those bills passed so we can protect our streets.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to just follow up on this. I am not on the justice committee and I do not follow all of the minute details of these different bills as they go through the process, but it seems to me that a number of the bills that the member mentioned had some amendments applied to them in committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Paul Szabo

There are no amendments on this bill. It is still at second reading.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

There are none? I was thinking that these were perhaps those where we have to have some decent debate and make sure that what we do, we do right, but then after that debate, we should go ahead and proceed.

I did not have a list of all of the bills that the member mentioned, so I did not know where they were in terms of the process here, but at any rate, we want to move expeditiously forward on these criminal justice matters and I am really rather pleased, I guess, that the Liberals once again are saying that they are in favour of law and order, and these measure to get tough of crime.

The only thing that bothers me is that in the last election, in order to try to gain some votes, they were also saying that, but in the 13 years when they were in a position of being able to do something about it, they did absolutely nothing. We are worried that perhaps they are just empty words to try to appeal to the electorate.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind my colleague that we committed 400 additional police officers in the last campaign in 2006.

When I am talking to the mayors of Surrey and Vancouver, they are telling me that they have put more police officers than supported by the Conservative government across Canada, so that shows how little it is interested in providing an effective policing system and an effective justice system for Canadians.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Bell North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences).

I have long been a strong advocate for tough, smart and effective law and order measures in my riding of North Vancouver. In my previous role as mayor of the district of North Vancouver, I worked closely with local law enforcement officials to address crime and justice issues in our community and to ensure that North Vancouver is safe for residents and families.

Superintendent Gord Tomlinson and the North Vancouver RCMP detachment do excellent work in our communities with a comprehensive policing approach which includes working with concerned members of the community to ensure we are all doing our part.

The North Vancouver block watch program immediately comes to mind. Designed to build safer neighbourhoods by providing support, guidance, training and resource materials to develop and operate neighbourhood block watch programs, block watch has flourished in my riding by informing and engaging citizens about keeping our neighbourhood safe.

The North Vancouver RCMP also facilitates the local citizens on patrol program which utilizes local volunteers to monitor areas where the community is requesting more patrolling and where history and statistics demonstrate crime is more likely to occur.

Volunteers are paired up, given a combination cell phone-radio and they patrol in their own vehicles looking for any suspicious activity, which they phone in to the RCMP. The volunteers receive training on what to look for and how to react when they observe suspicious activity.

The decision to start this program in North Vancouver was prompted by the success of similar programs in Coquitlam, Mission and Vancouver, and it is part of the way the RCMP is expanding its level of service throughout British Columbia through the use of enthusiastic local volunteers.

As well, community policing offices located in neighbourhood shopping centres across North Vancouver are staffed by local volunteers and provide a friendly local face and convenient location for residents to come to for information on policing services and crime prevention programs.

While Bill C-35 makes appropriate changes to better deal with those already charged with firearms related offences, we cannot forget the value that preventive measures, such as block watch, citizens on patrol and community polices offices, have in preventing crimes from being committed in the first place.

While I have always been an advocate for being tough on crime, government can do more to prevent crime in the first place. We can be tough and smart on crime at the same time, while building safer communities with a view to future generations. Constituents in my riding understand this. It is therefore disappointing to see the government is more content playing politics with its law and order agenda.

Like my constituents, the Liberal Leader of the Opposition, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, understands this and is not soft on crime as the Conservative government is attempting to portray him with its latest republican style smear campaign.

A Liberal government would sit down to negotiate with the provinces to give municipalities more money to hire more officers and give the RCMP an extra $200 million to hire 400 officers for rapid enforcement teams across Canada that would boost local police and communities in their fight against guns, gangs, organized crime and drug trafficking.

Unlike the Conservative government, we will walk the walk and not just make hollow promises when fishing for votes. A Liberal government would also give provinces more money to hire more crown attorneys to speed up trials and to establish organized crime secretariats in every province, similar to Ontario's very successful guns and gangs task force to fight organized crime.

In addition, we will actually fill the judicial vacancies that currently exist across the country. How can the Conservatives claim to be tough on crime when they sit on their hands as judicial vacancies grow and the courts get more and more backlogged by the day? That is not providing justice for Canadians. Justice delayed is justice denied.

There are examples at all court levels of charges being dropped due to unreasonable delays in proceeding to trial. It is not good enough.

While the government has failed to convince Canadians it is capable of doing more than just talking tough on crime, let us turn to Bill C-35.

Bill C-35 would amend the Criminal Code of Canada to provide that the accused will be required to demonstrate, when charged with certain serious offences involving firearms or other regulated weapons, that a pre-trial detention is not justified in their case. These offenders have shown they are a danger to the public simply by using a firearm in the first place. Why should the onus be on a prosecutor to oppose bail being given in light of the serious nature of the crime for which they have been charged? Surely our law-abiding citizens deserve to feel protected from perpetrators of serious crimes.

The bill also introduces two factors relating to such offences that the courts must take into account when deciding whether the accused should be released or detained until the trial. Bill C-35 would require the courts to specifically consider: first, the fact that a firearm was allegedly used in the commission of the offence; and second, the fact that the accused faces a minimum penalty of three years or more imprisonment if convicted.

I strongly support amending the Criminal Code to add this provision. Police officers in my riding support this change, and constituents who simply want safe communities for their families support this change.

In addition, the Liberal opposition supports this change and we have demonstrated that in the House on repeated occasions.

For the fourth time in the past six months, the Liberal opposition this week attempted to get this bill and several other justice bills we are prepared to support, Bill C-18, the DNA identification act, Bill C-22, the age of consent bill, and Bill C-23, criminal procedures, passed without delay through all stages of consideration by the House. Had all members of the government and the NDP agreed, these bills could have cleared the House yesterday and now be on their way to the Senate as we speak. They would have been closer to law and the Liberal proposal would have advanced more than half of the government's entire justice agenda.

That is what my constituents in North Vancouver want. They do not care about politics or the next election. They just want safer communities and results from the minority government. It is too bad the Conservatives are not more interested in getting results than getting headlines.

I support Bill C-35 because I believe that the offences for which it would require a reverse onus for bail provisions are serious and that the bill would help ensure a safer community in North Vancouver.

These offences include any one of the following eight serious offences committed with a firearm: attempted murder, robbery, discharging a firearm with intent, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, kidnapping, hostage taking or extortion.

In addition, the reverse onus provisions will be required for any indictable offence involving firearms or other regulated weapons if committed while under a weapons prohibition order: firearm trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking or firearms smuggling.

I am more than comfortable with a change to the Criminal Code that would require individuals charged with these offences to make the case why they should be back on the streets while awaiting trial. I know citizens in my riding, who are going above and beyond to do their part to create a safe community, such as Block Watch and Citizens on Patrol, would be more than relieved to know there will be less of a chance of encountering individuals charged with such offences.

The government, in its effort to unjustly brand the Liberals as soft on crime, repeatedly attempts to assert that the opposition is opposed to these reverse onus measures as they are not in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While this party's commitment to the charter is unwavering, such an assertion is factually incorrect. It is true that the charter protects the presumption of innocence and the right not to be denied bail without just cause pending trial but within this basic presumption, however, bail can in fact be denied in order to ensure that the accused does not flee from justice, to protect the public if there is a substantial likelihood that the accused will reoffend and to maintain confidence in the administration of justice.

Although the prosecutor usually bears the onus of demonstrating why an accused should be denied bail, there are currently situations where it falls to the accused to demonstrate that detaining him or her is not justified. For example, the onus already shifts to the accused if they are charged with: an indictable offence committed while already released on another indictable offence; if they fail to appear in court or allegedly breach a release condition; for certain organized crime, terrorism or security of information offences; for drug trafficking, smuggling or drug producing offences; and, if they are not ordinarily a resident of Canada.

The Liberal opposition has made repeated efforts to have Bill C-35 fast-tracked through all stages of the House only to be blocked by the government. The Liberal Party's support for measures similar to those found in Bill C-35 go well beyond this debate today and even this 39th Parliament.

I was pleased, as were law enforcement and residents in North Vancouver, with our party's proposals during the last election in support of the reverse onus bail hearings for firearms related offences.

Our position on this issue has not changed. Canadians sent us to Ottawa to work together and that is what the Liberal opposition is attempting to do with our proposal to fast-track Bill C-35 and the three other bills.

The Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act, MITA, from the previous Parliament, will be reintroduced later today as a private member's bill by the Liberal justice critic and the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. I can only hope the government will not block this bill too. The government needs to prove that it is more interested in getting results than headlines.

I will continue to support Bill C-35 and I encourage the minority Conservative government to work with this Parliament, including the Liberal members, and pass these laws that will enhance Canada's Criminal Code and justice system. Families in my riding want these bills passed. Police officers favour these changes and I stand here today to demand that the government listen to Canadians and do the right thing.

Comments by Member for Palliser
Points of Order
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order that was raised yesterday.

During the late show debate on Wednesday, I used language that, upon reflection, I realize I should not have used and I withdraw my words without reservation.

Comments by Member for Palliser
Points of Order
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for that.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think there is consensus on the bill but we also need to look at the prevention aspect of it, which I think he mentioned in his speech.

One of the things that troubles me is that when we look to those who are being enticed into crime, if I can use that term, and the tools that are available for criminals to do that, we seem to be lacking in prevention. We know that an ounce of prevention really does go a long way.

I would like to have his take on what we have proposed as a party to ensure we do not spend all of our political capital as well as our financial capital simply on bills that seem to wipe out the problem just with legislation. We support the bill, do not get me wrong, but we need to go further. When we have crimes with guns and the growth of gangs, it says that we have failed in our prevention.

We have called for the present government and the previous government to spend more on what is going on in our communities and to ensure there are opportunities for youth, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

It is not only important to look at legislation, it is important to look at prevention as well. I would like to hear the member's comments on that.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Don Bell North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, our party certainly agrees that crime prevention is equally as important as dealing with the aftermath of crime in the sentencing and in the laws.

My colleague spoke earlier about the efforts being taken in the municipality of Surrey, for example, on a very comprehensive crime prevention program that was put in place following a visit by the RCMP and the Surrey municipality to the U.K. where a crime prevention program focusing on the causes of crime has resulted in significant reductions in certain criminal activities.

We need to have a comprehensive approach, which I think I mentioned in my comments about the RCMP in North Vancouver, which includes programs like Block Watch, Citizens on Patrol and community policing. It is a case of getting awareness out there, getting the community involved and then dealing with the other aspects, such as homelessness, drug addictions and the social programs that are involved in the communities.

We need to do both but we need to ensure we provide adequate deterrents as well for the safety of the community and hence, why we need to ensure there are appropriate laws that indicate that Canada and our communities take the transgression of breaking those laws seriously.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure all members present that I am not trying to hog the floor. It is just that I use the opportunity when I get it. If any other member wants to get in on this debate, I will then remain seated.

I want to, however, challenge the member. He accuses our party of playing cheap political games with the issue of crime. That is ludicrous. We believe that we are representing the wishes of our constituents and, in fact, all Canadians, even in those ridings where we do not have members of Parliament currently, in trying to push forward these particular issues.

That is not playing politics. It is simply doing what we are here for. That is what a parliamentarian is supposed to do. I resent the fact that the member somehow tries to cheapen this.

I would also point out to the member that during the 13 years of Liberal rule, the Liberals had an opportunity to do something real about the crime issues in this country but they chose instead to waste a billion dollars registering duck hunters and farmers who used long rifles. This is absolutely a ridiculous use of taxpayer money. Think of all of the police who could have been put on the streets and the judges who could have been hired with that money.

I am not saying this as being anywhere near a cheap political point. I am serious about this and I wish they were. I wish we would not play games or call it that when we are here to debate these serious issues.