House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-22.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 156
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB

With respect to Canada Post Corporation: (a) have works of art been purchased by or provided to Canada Post during the period of time in which Mr. Ouellet was President, and if so, please provide a complete list; (b) have any works of art been given or sold by Canada Post to Mr. Ouellet during his tenure at Canada Post, and if so, please provide a complete list including the estimated value, the mechanism for determining value and the amount received by the Corporation from Mr. Ouellet; and (c) what was the total amount of non-receipted expenses claimed by Mr. Ouellet during his term as President of Canada Post for which no receipts have been provided?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from May 2 consideration of Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, as reported (with amendments) from the Standing Committee on Justice; and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak today at the report stage of Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal Code.

When this bill was introduced and read the first time in May 2006, the government's goal was to toughen the Criminal Code by imposing minimum sentences for criminal offences involving firearms.

My Quebec colleagues and I carefully read and analysed this bill and quickly pointed out numerous flaws that prevented us from supporting the bill at second reading.

When the bill went to committee—and I want to commend my colleagues from Hochelaga and Châteauguay—Saint-Constant on their work—the committee rejected the clauses on minimum sentences.

We in the Bloc Québécois believe that adopting the automatic minimum sentences proposed by the Conservative government is detrimental and ineffective and will not help improve public safety, which is something that this government and we ourselves want.

Even though we have taken pains to explain why we are opposed to minimum sentences and have rejected these clauses in committee, the government is presenting us with the same clauses again today by way of amendments.

Obviously the Conservative government still does not understand that its approach is ineffective and will not decrease the crime rate and the recidivism rate, as it hopes.

As usual, the government is offering simplistic solutions, motivated by its electoral objectives, without taking into account possible solutions, and especially ones that are geared towards concrete and positive results.

So, this report stage gives us another opportunity to explain the reasons we reject the amendments proposed by the government, and we hope to convince them, once again, and try to wake them up to a new approach to crime.

When the then minister tabled Bill C-10 in May 2006, he said that the bill was in response to a crime rate that had, according to him, been increasing in Canada in recent years. Is this true? How many times have we heard members of the Conservative government tell us that society has never been this violent, that crime has never been so widespread, that crime rates are on the rise? But this is not true.

The statistics gathered by Statistics Canada—which this government has access to, and which I hope it takes the time to examine—show that crime, and in particular violent crime, has actually been decreasing since 1992.

Clearly the government is offering solutions based on false premises. Even worse—and the Bloc Québécois is completely convinced of this—they are damaging, ineffective and will not contribute at all to truly improving public safety.

Let us now look more closely at the solutions proposed by the government. The Conservative ministers and members keep telling us that minimum sentences will help fight crime more effectively.

Numerous studies have shown that minimum sentences have a dubious impact in the fight against crime.

One study done in 1997 by the federal Minister of Justice found that the mandatory prison sentences introduced in a number of western countries had no measurable effect on crime rates. I am sure that the government is aware of this study because when it introduces a bill, it must learn as much as it can and go over the studies.

In a press conference and before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Minister of Justice acknowledged that no Canadian study has demonstrated that new measures to introduce minimum penalties are effective in fighting crime.

As legislators, we all want to improve our laws to make our citizens safer. I believe that all members of this House want to do that. However, new measures must be supported by studies that demonstrate they are effective.

Clearly, the government has been unable to prove that the measures in the bill are effective. Rather, it has shown that its vision is based on a simplistic, populist ideology that has obviously sought too much inspiration in the American model. The American model imposes harsher penalties and puts more people in prison, yet the homicide rate is three times higher there than it is here. The Conservatives should be able to understand that the government will not reduce the crime rate by filling up our prisons and building new ones, which is what the Americans have been doing.

It is important to note that Canada puts far fewer people in jail than the United States does. According to the most recent statistics, Canada incarcerates 116 people per 100,000 while the United States incarcerates 702 people per 100,000. As I said before, the homicide rate is three times higher in the United States than it is here. How can anyone suggest that the American method works? Obviously, it does not, as the studies have shown.

As my colleague, the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, already mentioned, criminals do not read legislation and do not know what the minimum sentences are. When they are planning a crime, their only concern is not getting caught. According to criminologists and experts on criminal behaviour, the criminal mind is convinced that there is no risk of being caught. From that perspective, the threat of a longer prison sentence would have no impact on that individual.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, as well as being ineffective, minimum sentences can also have a negative impact. I will share an example given by a renowned criminologist. Incidentally, the Conservative government should have hired a few such experts, since there seems to be a lack of real analysis here. So, according to André Normandeau, a criminologist at the Université de Montréal, minimum sentences can encourage judges to acquit an individual, rather than be forced to sentence that individual to a penalty the judge considers excessive under the circumstances, for cases in which an appropriate penalty would be a conditional sentence, community service or a few weeks in jail.

We must also fight against poverty, inequality and the sense of exclusion, which are all significant factors in the emergence of crime. These are the areas on which we should be focusing our efforts.

I am convinced that measures to prevent crime are more effective, although we cannot overlook the importance of imposing severe penalties when the crime committed is recognized as extremely serious. We had a preventive measure, but unfortunately, the government preferred to render it less effective.

Instead of waiting until it is too late, the Conservative government should reconsider.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the excellent speech by my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé regarding Bill C-10.

I was struck in particular by certain points that he made earlier. First, the Conservative government failed to consult statistics compiled since 1992 that show that the crime rate is declining. In addition, the member referred to a study published in 1997 that argues that mandatory prison sentences have no effect on the crime rate.

Does the member not feel that this bill is driven strictly by ideology? That is definitely how it comes across. We do not have the impression that the bill is based on an analysis supported by solid arguments and facts. I find the government's position very ambiguous. I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on this.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, for his excellent question.

On average, Canada does not incarcerate or put in prison proportionally more individuals than other western countries, such as Germany or France. Furthermore, homicide rates are comparable. The United States has the highest homicide rate and it incarcerates the most people.

This Conservative government is adopting the dominant American ideology, which is not based on any scientific study but which seems to be very popular with certain segments of the population who, in some instances, have not really looked at the research. This is a populist approach. It is quite frankly simplistic and ineffective. They are adopting an American model that has not been proven.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I hear with interest the argument, always from the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP, that incarceration is not a deterrent to the commission of crime.

However, I would like to ask the member, if a criminal in the act of doing a crime thinks he is not going to caught, would the member then support added resources for our law enforcement agencies so that word would get out that the probability of being caught has skyrocketed? Would that have an effect? Or does he really believe it would make no difference?

When I was driving down the highway the other day, I drove into a construction zone. I noticed a big sign that said the speed limit was 60, because we do not want to injure the workers building the highway. There was another sign that said in great big letters that “speed fines double”. That was the only time when I was going the speed limit that no one passed me. It seems to me that the fear of being caught, and the penalty attached to it, is in fact a deterrent.

I would like my colleague to comment on those ideas.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I said in my speech that all the members in this House truly want to reduce crime and ensure that the safety of Quebeckers and Canadians is not in any way threatened. The preferred methods are where we differ.

I am a social worker by training and I worked for 20 years in a network with people who were often disadvantaged and whose parents had engaged in some form of crime. Crime must be attacked at the root, during childhood. Through prevention programs, support for the parents and support for the children, we can reduce crime. These are the measures we should be pushing for.

However, if we do not succeed through prevention, crimes will then be committed by a person who often had no support and who will need to be imprisoned because they committed a serious offence. We agree with this, but we do not agree with minimum penalties because they take the judge's place in rendering a judgment, and do not take into account the specific circumstances surrounding a crime. For these reasons, we will vote against the bill.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak to Bill C-10 to provide for minimum penalties of five, seven and ten years for certain crimes according to the number, if any, of previous convictions.

The Bloc Québécois has looked carefully at this bill. In fact, in committee, a number of amendments were withdrawn and now the government is presenting them again here. Why is the Bloc Québécois against this bill? Certainly not because it wants crime to increase.

The crime rate has gone down in Canada. In the past, we realized that prevention measures such as maintaining the firearms registry and better monitoring of the parole system would provide the necessary conditions for continuing to lower the crime rate. What will be the impact of the approach the government is proposing today? The incarceration rate will increase. There will be less money in the budget for prevention and less chance of reintegrating people into society.

For example, under the bill, for armed robbery there would be a minimum sentence of three years for a first offence and a minimum sentence of five years for a subsequent offence. What this does not say—it is there between the lines—is that an accomplice would automatically be sentenced to three years. An unarmed youth involved in an armed robbery would automatically be sentenced to three years. The government has deliberately and knowingly elected to automatically send a 19- or 20-year-old to crime school and likely create a career criminal. We currently rely on something very important and that is the intelligence of judges. Judges are humans with analytical skills. They are considered to have the competence to do this type of work and can take into account the entire context of a crime. This is not an area where automatic sentences will resolve the situation. They will not solve anything. If the bill is passed, I can guarantee that in 10 years, the penitentiaries will have bigger budget problems. The crime rate will go up and there will be less money for prevention. The result will be the exact opposite of what the government was looking for.

It is very easy to say that, for certain crimes, the more severe the minimum sentence, the lower the chances of recidivism. The entire situation must be analyzed. Some people are able to successfully return to society. It has been done in the past. There are also other tools that can be used, such as better supervision of parole. Greater effort is needed in this area.

The Conservative government, in good faith, wants to find a way to reduce crime. However, it is only looking at the first level, while concrete and practical solutions are to be found at the second and third levels. We must look further to achieve results. The American model offers a good example. There are more people in prison in the United States than anywhere else in the world. This breeds a team of criminals, contributes to organized crime and encourages people to become involved in organized crime. Here, we developed a system that allows people to reintegrate into society and return to a normal lifestyle. Thus, we are achieving a number of our objectives.

Experts indicate that the use of minimum sentences does nothing to lower crime or recidivism rates. Evidence to that effect was heard in committee. For example, a criminologist from the University of Ottawa, Julia Roberts, conducted a study for the Department of Justice Canada in which she concluded:

...mandatory sentences of imprisonment have been introduced in a number of western nations. ...The studies that have examined the impact of these laws reported variable effects on prison populations, and no discernible effect on crime rates.

No discernible effect on crime rates. On one hand, we have a knee-jerk, short-term approach, and on the other, we have a professional analysis of the situation. Since crime rates have dropped in Canada, I think we must continue to cultivate this different attitude towards such behaviour, developed in Quebec and in Canada. In the United States, they have not achieved the desired results. In order to continue to reduce crime rates, we need a major systemic intervention to create a society that has less poverty.

That is the primary factor here. Every society that does a better job of fighting poverty finds that fewer people commit minor, entry level crimes. These crimes are often committed by people who are just trying to make ends meet or because they are addicts and do not have access to support programs. I think that is the solution we should be looking at.

More support and better supervision once offenders exit the penal system will help lower the risk to reoffend. We also have to find new ways of doing things. Today, parole is automatically offered once an offender has served one sixth of the sentence. We have to reconsider this. I think modifying the parole system is more important and more urgent than the approach the government has proposed, and would be more effective, too.

We think that bringing in automatic sentencing is a dangerous approach that has not resulted in desired outcomes in the United States and will not result in desired outcomes in Canada. That is why a majority of committee members voted to remove so many of the amendments. Now the government wants to put them back in. We will see what the House decides to do about this, but it seems obvious to me that this approach is not well thought out.

Introducing this bill was like a gut reaction; when you burn yourself, the first thing you want to do is put water on the burn, but that may not be the best solution. Something else might be needed. In this case, there should be a collective approach that allows the situation to be dealt with and worthwhile results to be achieved.

I would like young people, who unfortunately get involved in crime, to return to society as soon as possible and to be properly integrated, thanks to adequate support services. That is better than creating individuals who join organized crime and therefore cost more to society.

That is why the Bloc Québécois will be voting against this bill. We hope the hon. members in this House are paying attention to our arguments and that we will get the desired results. In fact, we hope this entire problem and this bill will be submitted for consultation—even if it is rejected—in order to come up with solutions that will truly improve the situation without making it worse.

We are not necessarily here to copy the U.S. model. The Americans make their choices, and we must not condemn them, but we do not need to copy their methods entirely because they do not necessarily correspond to our social values.

We would like, more than any thing else, to see reintegration as a possibility in our society . I hope that the hon. members in this House will listen to our arguments.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very closely. I may have missed something, but I am going to draw this to the member's attention. I spoke to a police officer just the other day who was frustrated enough to have called my riding office to speak to me. I will not mention names because of course I cannot. He spoke of a file that crossed his desk in regard to someone who has had 42 different charges and convictions against him in the last short period of time. The police officer asked, “How is it that this person keeps getting back on the street in order to commit the next one?”

The member opposite talked about how this is not a deterrent and about what the system is doing to the young accomplice, but what I will say to the member is that he never used the word victim. What about the victim? In the case of those 42 charges in a very short period of time, if there had been some sort of mandatory minimum for the person, 10, 20, 30 or 40 victims may not have been victimized by this criminal because he would have been spending time in our of our facilities instead of being out and re-victimizing people.

I am not here for punishment. I would love to rehabilitate the man too. However, as his own member said, criminals do not read the legislation. They are just concerned about not getting caught. As for this guy, he is getting caught and still is spending time back out on the street re-victimizing. Does the member think about the victims as much as he thinks about that young accomplice?