House of Commons Hansard #170 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I also want to recognize some of the very good work the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley has done in his own community around first nations issues.

Rather than use my words, I would like to quote from the Auditor General's report in 2003. She said:

For example, INAC seems focused on fulfilling the letter of the land claims' implementation plans but not the spirit. Officials may believe that they have met their obligations, but in fact they have not worked to support the full intent of the land claims agreements.

Those are the Auditor General's own words. The member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley raised a very good point. Oftentimes people feel that the work is done and they can dust off their hands and go home once the treaty or the land claims agreement is signed. In fact, that is when the heavy lifting starts. We found that with the Carcross first nation, with Teslin Tlingit, where they are struggling with their agreements around justice, for example.

Just because a self-government agreement, a land claims agreement or a treaty is signed, it does not mean the work is over. That in fact is where we really require the government to come with the honour of the Crown and its fiduciary responsibility to ensure that those agreements move forward in an expeditious manner.

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I found the last comment by my colleague to be very interesting.

We have seen case after case where the federal government signs agreements and then breaks them. For example, in 1998 the federal government under the Liberals at that time signed an agreement with the people of Barriere Lake to rebuild a community that was absolutely shattered. As soon as the agreement was signed, the government walked away and the government has done nothing in that community since. The levels of poverty and the tragedy that is Barriere Lake remains an open sore today.

My colleagues in the Conservative Party sit and snicker because they have not stepped up to the plate to address this long-standing breach of the federal government's obligations.

I would like to ask my colleague what she thinks about this.

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Timmins—James Bay has raised a very good point.

Most people in the House are very well aware of the 2% funding cap that came into place in 1996. Again, the Auditor General has raised this issue. She has pointed out quite eloquently that populations continue to increase in first nations communities and the funding has grown at only a little over 1.6%.

The member for Timmins—James Bay has classic examples in the communities of Kashechewan and Attawapiskat. Those communities are struggling with lack of clean water and lack of adequate housing, schools that are shut down and not reopened. We hear this over and over again.

If we are going to seriously talk about a nation to nation status, economic well-being and quality of life, we need to recognize that there needs to be adequate resources in place, which includes money.

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Pursuant to order made earlier today, Bill C-51, An Act to give effect to the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement and to make a consequential amendment to another Act is deemed read a second time, deemed referred to a committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

(Motion agreed to, bill deemed read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported, concurred in, read a third time and passed.)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

There being no motions at report stage the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Code
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6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave now?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
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6:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Fundy Royal
New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments).

Members in the justice committee have had a chance to study Bill C-23 and are now well aware that this bill is not about major substantive reforms. Bill C-23 proposes technical amendments to update, improve and modernize the law by enhancing the efficiency of criminal procedures, strengthening sentencing measures and clarifying court related language rights provisions.

I am pleased to see that most of the Bill C-23 amendments as introduced received support by committee members during clause by clause, which reflects a shared understanding of the importance of its reforms. I am pleased also with the collaborative work demonstrated by all members of the committee and I am sure that the members would agree.

This government has introduced several legislative initiatives in the House that aim at tackling crime which remains one of this government's key priorities. Ensuring that the law is up to date and efficient is an important component of this priority. The amendments, as introduced, have been developed in collaboration with justice system partners that were influential in helping us identify areas of the Criminal Code that were in need of change.

Bill C-23 touches on several areas of the Criminal Code. Most of the amendments are technical in nature and fall within three main categories, namely: criminal procedure, language of the accused and sentencing. I will address each of those in turn.

Most of the criminal procedure amendments are technical in nature and seek to improve procedural efficiencies and rectify certain shortcomings in criminal proceedings. These technical changes include amendments to: expedite the execution of out of province search warrants by allowing the use of current technologies; harmonize and consolidate provisions dealing with proof of service of documents; identify the proper appeal route for judicial orders to return seized property; and finally, to improve the process with respect to the challenge of jurors to assist in preserving the jury's impartiality.

Other Criminal Code procedure amendments of a more substantive nature include: the reclassification of the offence of possessing break-in instruments, which is currently a straight indictable offence, to a dual procedure offence to allow the prosecution to either elect to proceed by way of indictment or by way of summary conviction; the creation of an offence for the breach of a non-communication order imposed on an accused who is remanded to pre-trial custody; and, a new election right for the accused as to his or her mode of trial where a preferred indictment has been filed against him or her or where the Supreme Court of Canada orders a new trial.

On the issue of language of the accused, allow me to now mention not all but some of the language provisions addressed in the bill.

These proposals are the result of numerous consultations once again, not only with the provinces and territories but also with the Commissioner of Official Languages, the association of francophone jurists and its national federation. In fact, both the Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression français de common law and the Commissioner of Official Languages appeared as witnesses before the committee. They were generally satisfied with the proposals found in the bill.

They did, however, express concerns with respect to some of the amendments being proposed and these concerns were reflected in the amendments proposed by the opposition parties at clause by clause consideration of the bill.

The government supported some of these amendments that were consistent with the scope and the principle of the bill. Sections 530 and 530.1 of the Criminal Code have been in force across the country since January 1, 1990, and they grant all the accused the right to trial in the official language of his or her choice.

Numerous studies and reports have confirmed that barriers continue to stand in the way of the exercise of these rights. Moreover, court decisions have highlighted a number of interpretation problems. The amendments proposed by Bill C-23 would resolve these problems and thus contribute to the evolution of language rights in the criminal law context.

One important amendment would heed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada by requiring the court to inform all accused persons of their right to be tried in their official language whether they are represented by counsel or not.

The Commissioner of Official Languages, in a 1995 study entitled “The Equitable Use of English and French before the Courts in Canada”, had also recommended that all accused persons be better informed of their right to a trial in the official language of their choice.

Another amendment would require the charging document to be translated in the language of the accused upon request. This is a logical complement to accused persons exercising their language rights. By the same token, to satisfy the need for certainty and precision in criminal proceedings where the charging document has been translated, a further amendment would make clear that where there is an inconsistency between the original version of the charging document and the translated version, the original document ought to prevail.

Some of the other proposals found in Bill C-23 relate to bilingual trials and would provide the presiding judge with the power to issue appropriate orders to ensure that bilingual trials run smoothly and efficiently.

For example, Bill C-23 would require that, if the circumstances warrant, a joint trial in both official languages should be ordered in the case of co-accused who do not share the same official language. Such an amendment not only brings greater clarify to the code, but also ensures that a proper balance is struck between the rights of the accused person and the efficient administration of justice.

The language of trial amendments propose workable and balanced solutions to problems that have been identified and promise to bring greater efficiency to minority language trials. They will also ensure better publicity of the language rights provision in the Criminal Code.

Finally, dealing with sentencing, Bill C-23 proposes both technical and substantive amendments which are meant to streamline processes, clarify the intent of certain provisions and update the law in this area.

Let me remind hon. members of some of the amendments that are of a more substantive nature. One amendment would raise the maximum fine that can be imposed upon conviction of a summary conviction offence. The current $2,000 amount has remained unchanged over the last 20 years. As introduced, the amendment raised the maximum fine amount to $10,000.

During clause by clause, the government supported an opposition amendment to reduce the proposed maximum fine to $5,000, which is still a tremendous update over the $2,000 amount that had been in place over the last 20 years and better reflects changes over that time.

The government believes that this amount would still meet the policy objective of updating the law in this area and would still provide the Crown with more flexibility to proceed by way of summary conviction procedure.

Another substantive amendment to the sentencing provisions of Bill C-23 provides the Crown with the ability to seek forfeiture of computers and other related property used in the commission of the offence with respect to Internet luring offences. This is indeed a substantive change that I think all members in the House can support, dealing with the forfeiture of the property of individuals who are involved in what is a very heinous crime.

As well, Bill C-23 would provide sentencing courts with the power to order an offender not to communicate directly or indirectly with victims, witnesses and other identified persons during their period of incarceration. A corresponding offence for breeching such an order is also proposed.

These amendments would provide the courts with an additional tool to protect victims of crime from unwanted communications. As this type of order is currently being imposed by courts at various stages of the criminal process, such as when an accused is remanded to pretrial custody or released on bail, this amendment would fill a gap with respect to such orders when an offender is serving a term of imprisonment.

Another important amendment includes the power of a sentencing court to refer an offender in appropriate circumstances to a provincially or territorially approved treatment program under the supervision of the court before sentence is imposed.

By delaying the imposition of the sentencing to allow an offender to have early access to treatment programs, the offender is given a strong incentive for behavioural change and successful rehabilitation.

I will now provide a few examples of the technical amendments. One of them includes a change that would provide a court of appeal with the power to suspend a conditional sentence order until an appeal from sentence or conviction is determined.

A series of other amendments would serve to clarify the application of impaired driving penalties. For instance, in response to uncertainty in judicial decisions with respect to impaired driving penalties, one important amendment would clarify that the minimum penalties that apply for a first, second and third impaired driving offence, such as operation of a motor vehicle while impaired and refusal to provide a breath sample, do apply to the more serious situations of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.

By the same token, this legislation would also make it clear that repeat impaired driving offenders, whose new offence causes bodily harm or death, will receive a mandatory period of incarceration and will therefore not be eligible for a conditional sentence order.

Another impaired driving amendment would clarify that an offender is only permitted to drive while being the subject of a driving prohibition order if the offender is not only registered in an alcohol ignition interlock device program, but also complies with the conditions of that program.

We as a government are proud of the work accomplished today with Bill C-23 and we hope the bill will be passed expeditiously. I would like to remind hon. members that the provinces, territories and other justice system stakeholders are keen to see this bill enacted, as it would improve the effectiveness of and access to the criminal justice system.

I, therefore, urge all members to join me in ensuring quick passage of Bill C-23 into law.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.

I am pleased to rise in this House today to speak about Bill C-23, whose purpose is to make a number of amendments to the Criminal Code. This omnibus bill has to do specifically with criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other matters.

Bill C-23 is an omnibus bill, or what we like to call a cleanup bill, since its objective is to ensure the Criminal Code of Canada is keeping up with today's society in order to maximize its efficiency and make its application as simple as possible. Even though the Criminal Code is an old and warped document, it must be what our criminal justice system relies on.

I will give a bit of background. The first reading of this bill was on June 22, 2006. The debates at second reading were in October and second reading was in October. It was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and there the bill had five hearings in the month of May. Four days after the last hearing, the committee report was tabled.

As members can see, the bill moved along with some speed once the standing committee had a chance to deal with it, but there are many justice bills, items and reports before that committee which I sit on with the parliamentary secretary. We have been quite busy.

However, I must say by way of background that it is quite unfair of the government House leader to say in the House that Bill C-23, this bill, a Criminal Code amendment, was held up “for 214 days at committee by the opposition parties”. This is a cleanup bill that we had repeatedly offered to fast track, along with a number of other bills, in order to ensure that non-contentious criminal justice bills would speed through Parliament.

Here we are in the dying hours and days of this session and we still do not have this non-contentious cleanup bill passed. It can be seen that the committee did its work in the month of May and was in no way delaying the bill. I think it is unfortunate that the government House leader stooped to such a level in falsely accusing the parties and the members of that committee of being dilatory.

Let us see what Bill C-23 is all about. The bill touches on a number of issues, including expanding the availability of non-communication orders to provide better protection to victims and other selected individuals from unwanted communications from offenders in custody.

The bill increases the maximum fine for summary conviction offences. These have not been updated in 20 years. The maximum fine under a summary conviction offence is $2,000. It will move to $10,000, which we can see in the most heinous of crimes under the summary conviction category might very well be appropriate.

Bill C-23 facilitates the efficiency of the execution of out of province search warrants.

It guarantees the right of the accused to appear before a judge and jury that will speak the official language of the accused. I cannot say how important this is in our bilingual province of New Brunswick and in the bilingual community of Greater Moncton that I represent.

I must say that this bill is a perfect example of how important committee work actually is. We have read a lot about how committees are dysfunctional or have become so because of the environment around here, but this bill was swiftly dealt with by a committee that acted very efficiently and very well. There was a camaraderie on the committee with respect to non-contentious bills, and a great deal of respect. The chairman of that committee, from Alberta, deserves great credit.

However, Bill C-23 is not bedtime reading. It is fairly complex and it is all about the details. A lot of time was spent in the committee going through the nuts and bolts of this bill.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights also spent the four sessions in listening to various experts, particularly with respect to language rights, on how this bill will indeed make criminal justice move more swiftly. Committee members from all four parties presented proposed amendments to make this an even better bill.

In short, Bill C-23 shows that when the government decides to work toward good policies, and put aside politics, this Parliament can work very well to achieve the greater good of a fairer and safer Canada for all law-abiding citizens.

As we get closer to the end of this legislative session, I do want to thank my fellow members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their amazing work and for the great deal of work done at the committee and here in the House of Commons.

In particular, I have a good working relationship with the parliamentary secretary whose riding abuts mine. I have great respect for the way he has dealt with many of the justice issues before us. We have been very busy these past few months. Many bills were studied and many witnesses were heard from.

I spoke earlier about the committee members' commitments and I can think of one example that must be highlighted. The member for Yukon proposed five amendments, making this a better bill. The member for Yukon, not a particularly francophone-rich area, stood up for the rights of those who deserve to have trials in their own language.

Regarding one of his amendments in his own words from the transcript of the committee, simply put as only the member for Yukon can do it with his experience and his common sense, he said as follows:

The first one, this amendment, only adds the word “may”, and that's the only difference.

That is the guts of his amendment. He continued:

What the clause basically said before was that if there are witnesses who have different languages, then they have to have a bilingual trial. But a bilingual trial may not be the fairest in all cases; in fact, it may not be possible. You may not have bilingual prosecutors and judges, or it may prejudice one of the witnesses....

It may prejudice one of the witnesses or the accused to have a trial mandated in a language, in one or the other of the official languages. It is much better to put the permissive “may” in the amendments. That is what we are doing in this last bit.

I cannot underscore how important language rights are as the kernel of the bill. The essence of this bill is about the language rights of the accused in a trial process.

As the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, I must emphasize that this was very important for the greater Moncton area. Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe is one of the most bilingual ridings in the country.

Bill C-23 reinforces the right of accused persons to be tried in the official language of their choice, and more particularly, the right to a bilingual trial in cases where co-accused do not speak the same official language. This important measure will ensure that justice can be served to all Canadians in both official languages. Once again, this will ensure a fair and equitable justice system. It is also important to emphasize that we have a fair and equitable justice system. This bill will improve our existing system.

That being said, I am a little skeptical about the guarantees provided in the bill concerning the true linguistic ability of the parties involved. It is easy to use this bill and fancy speeches to claim that we are bilingual. We must have bilingual trials. We must protect the rights of those who need bilingual trials. It is easy to say, but the reality of doing it might not be so easy. The judge and jury must fully understand the accused and ensure that his or her rights are respected. That is why the amendments to Bill C-23 are necessary.

How can we ensure that the level of language comprehension is adequate and that people are truly bilingual? It is not easy to assess the ability of prosecutors, lawyers and the accused. Add in a judge and jury, and it becomes very difficult to be sure that language rights will be respected.

In short, this bill is all about making the justice system work better. I would like to commend all the parties who worked very hard in making sure this cleanup bill cleaned up a system that was in fact working very well.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-23. I welcome many of these reforms mentioned in the text, but more importantly, I am pleased to stand behind any carefully planned legislation designed to modernize the criminal justice system and make it more efficient and effective.

The bill was tabled by the former justice minister on June 22, 2006. Despite the two previous attempts my colleagues and I made to speed the legislation along, first in October 2006 and then in March 2007, three months ago, here we are almost a year later debating a bill that should have been disposed of a long time ago.

What has held it up? If it were not for the Conservatives' consistent delaying tactics with respect to their own justice legislation, the bill would be through the House by now.

Let me briefly touch on some of the amendments to the Criminal Code that are proposed in Bill C-23. I think most of my colleagues will see why we should not delay this process, because the bill has strong reforms for criminal procedures and sentencing.

The amendments relating to criminal procedure include using any means of telecommunication to put forward warrants in a jurisdiction. Given the rapid rise of various forms of telecommunications with respect to emails and other means, this is clearly an overdue change. It finally brings our justice system more in line with new technology and it will make the warrant system much faster.

Other amendments related to criminal procedures include a change to the process with respect to the challenge of a juror. It will further allow for the preservation of impartiality of a jury by the judge.

They include a summary conviction trial with respect to co-accused that can proceed where one of the co-accused does not appear.

They include the reclassification of the offence of possession of break and enter instruments. Should the bill pass, this would become a dual procedure offence. The Crown can determine whether this offence should be prosecuted by way of indictment or by the faster procedure of summary conviction.

These are changes that we on this side of the House support.

With respect to the sentencing provisions, there are several steps that are being taken in the right direction. The most important is the power to order an offender not to communicate with identified persons while in custody, along with the creation of an offence for failing to comply with the order.

This is a step that I believe will have a very positive effect with respect to protecting victims. We can imagine those who have been victims of crime and those families who have lost loved ones. They actually still can be contacted by those who were convicted, with no real repercussions for those doing the contacting. One can imagine the mental anguish and fear this could cause.

The bill represents a strong reform with a clear message. A person who violates this order could be sentenced to two years for breaching this order in the case of an indictable offence, 18 months in the case of a summary offence, or in some cases there could be a fine. This will be particularly helpful in the case of women who have been the victims of violence.

In my own riding of Newton--North Delta there have been several high profile cases of violence against women. Those who have been lucky enough to survive, and sadly some have not, must be protected from any form of communication from an offender. These people are in prison and that sentence must include a non-communication order to protect those victims who have survived and their families.

Other important amendments with respect to sentencing include changes for those who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs and are responsible for the injury or death of innocent Canadians. Living in a community like mine, where there is strong grassroot support for real action on drunk driving, this is a great step forward.

I believe that these changes will be well received and they are yet another example of what in fact the Conservative government has been delaying. Criminals are being sentenced every day, and every day we delay the passage of this legislation is another day that victims are not being protected by the government.

There is an amendment that will allow, if convicted, the forfeit of any equipment used in an offence of luring a child by means of a computer. I can only say that it is about time the Criminal Code caught up with modern technology. No one who is convicted of using a computer to lure a child should be allowed to keep the equipment they used. In my personal view, they should not be allowed to even use a computer after having used one for that purpose.

I was proud to stand in favour of Bill C-22, another bill that was delayed by the Conservative government for partisan electoral reasons. It also focused on the importance of protecting our children. I am the father of three young children and I consistently speak in favour of and actively support any legislation that will protect their well-being.

I will also consistently speak out against a Conservative government that, while speaking in favour of protecting Canadians, actively seeks to delay important reforms for partisan electoral gains. Why? I believe the government delays bills like Bill C-23 so that the justice committee would not have to comprehensively review other justice bills tabled by the Conservative Party that members on this side of the House had concerns with.

Instead, the Conservative government, in a cynical attempt to overload a parliamentary committee with one-off bills, a tactic that is probably in some Conservative committee guide somewhere, does this in order to justify the untruth that the opposition is somehow trying to delay good justice legislation.

In mid-March, the Liberal opposition once again tried to move along Bill C-23, among other legislation, through all stages of consideration by the House. These bills would help police find criminals, protect children under 16, and put the onus on the accused for bail hearings of those who have been convicted of a firearms offence. What has happened? Once again the government has delayed its own justice legislation, including this one.

I believe that right thinking Conservative members must be outraged at these tactics by their leadership after many of my Conservative colleagues pushed for many of these changes for so long. I just hope that some of them begin to speak up and help get their own legislation through the House.

It would make me, as a legislator, feel better if the Conservative Party started tabling justice legislation for victims' rights and community safety.

Canadians deserve a government with the well-being of Canadians first and foremost on their mind instead of playing politics with the Criminal Code.