House of Commons Hansard #163 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Report stage
Budget Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Report stage
Budget Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Report stage
Budget Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Report stage
Budget Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

There has been a request that the vote on Motion No. 5 be deferred until the end of government orders tomorrow.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

moved that Bill C-35 be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

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

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am exceptionally pleased that we are debating Bill C-35 at third reading. According to my colleagues, it is the second best thing that has happened yet today.

It proposes a reverse onus in bail hearings for a number of firearm-related offences.

Canada's new government is following through with its commitment to get tough on crime. That is why, since last spring, we have introduced 11 bills to make our communities safer. We have tackled key issues such as gun crimes, alcohol and drug impaired driving, street racing, and the protection of our youth from adult sexual predators.

This government is listening to what Canadians are telling us. We are making progress on amending the Criminal Code to make it more responsive to their concerns.

It is important that we maintain the trust of Canadians in the criminal justice system. Along with other bills, Bill C-35 aims to do just that. Bill C-35 demonstrates this government's commitment to ensuring that people charged with serious firearm offences do not roam our streets while out on bail.

In my view, the legislative reforms proposed in Bill C-35 are appropriately tailored to the concern that has been expressed by many Canadians, the concern about the release from custody of individuals accused of serious gun crimes who pose a threat to public safety.

Bill C-35 proposes to shift the onus during bail hearings from the Crown to the accused, so that people charged with serious firearm offences will not benefit from a presumption in favour of release on bail. The burden will be on them to demonstrate why it is not justified to keep them in custody until they are dealt with according to the law.

Under Bill C-35, a reverse onus will apply in a number of cases.

First, Bill C-35 creates a reverse onus for eight serious offences committed with a firearm. These offences are: attempted murder; discharging a firearm with intent; sexual assault with a weapon; aggravated sexual assault; kidnapping; hostage taking; robbery; and extortion. It is clear that these are serious offences and their severity is only heightened when they are committed with a firearm.

Second, Bill C-35 proposes a reverse onus for the offences of firearm trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, and firearm smuggling. While firearm trafficking and smuggling are not offences that involve the actual use of a firearm, they are nonetheless very serious offences. Those involved in firearm trafficking and smuggling are responsible for the illegal supply of guns to people who cannot lawfully possess them and who are likely to use them for a criminal purpose.

The Criminal Code already provides a reverse onus for accused persons charged with drug trafficking and smuggling. It should also provide a reverse onus for those who are involved in firearm trafficking and smuggling. Just like those involved in the drug trade, firearm traffickers are also involved in organized and lucrative crime. In some cases, these activities go hand in hand and involve the same network of people.

Regardless of whether the charge is for firearm trafficking and smuggling or for drug crimes, a reverse onus should apply to the accused. The potential for continued involvement in that kind of ring is high, even after the accused has been arrested and then released. From a public safety perspective, firearm traffickers play a significant role in the firearm homicide problem. Their involvement poses an indirect but significant threat to the safety of the public.

Bill C-35 also creates a reverse onus for any offence involving a firearm or other regulated weapon if committed while the accused is subject to a weapons prohibition order.

Weapons prohibition orders are imposed in many cases, such as, for example, when a person is convicted of an indictable offence in which violence against a person was used, threatened or attempted. They are imposed on people convicted of certain drug trafficking and smuggling charges, as well as weapon-related offences. They remain in force for several years and in some cases for a lifetime.

Weapons prohibition orders are a very important tool in our criminal law to help prevent firearm violence, whether it is homicides or other gun related crimes, but also accidental injuries and suicides.

I would like to highlight the fact that there are approximately 35,000 prohibition orders currently in force in our country. This specific reverse onus situation has the potential to apply in a number of cases where the risk of future firearm violence is a concern. People should not be entitled to bail when they have demonstrated their inability to abide by a court order to not possess firearms or other regulated weapons.

Finally, Bill C-35 provides additional criteria specifically related to firearm offences for the court to consider when it decides whether the detention of the accused is justified.

This particular amendment is not a new reverse onus situation. The court will be able to justify denying bail to a person charged with an offence involving the use of a firearm or with a firearm offence that attracts a minimum penalty of three years or more.

If the court is not able to justify keeping a person in custody under the other permitted reasons, under Bill C-35 it will be able to do so if it is necessary in order to maintain confidence in the administration of justice.

Bill C-35 takes into consideration the broader picture regarding crime in the country. When it comes to gun crimes, the situation has changed, and we need to adapt to this change.

The reality is that organized crime and now street gangs are armed. Frequently they are armed with handguns or other restricted or prohibited firearms. Our criminal justice system must be properly equipped in order to step up to the challenges posed by this new brand of criminality.

Several of our large urban centres are now struggling with the criminal use or illegal possession of firearms by members of street gangs and by drug traffickers. Innocent people are affected by inter-gang violence, random shootings, armed robberies and, as we saw so recently, killings in schools. Just a couple of weeks ago, another young person, Jordan Manners, was fatally shot in a Toronto school.

We are adapting to changing times and changing crimes. Bill C-35 will enhance our bail regime to reflect our collective denunciation of gun crimes.

I am very happy that the bill is being met with quite a bit of support from all parties in the House and from various stakeholders. I would like to express how pleased I am with the recent support of the bill by the Bloc. Indeed, the study of this bill in committee has given us the opportunity to find out about important points of view, allowing all parties to appreciate its value. It is proof that committees can work.

The government believes that Bill C-35 is a very sensible piece of legislation. It is focused, strong and right. It is my hope that it will be well received in the Senate and that senators will move on it quickly and expeditiously.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated that comprehensive view of the bill. I want to add some more things to the record during this debate. One, of course, is that we do have a bail system in Canada. It is a right allowed to citizens. We do work in a system where people are innocent until proven guilty.

Witnesses also explained that people in most of the serious gun crime cases were not let out on bail anyway under the present system, so this would not affect a large number of cases.

What all committee members were shocked at was that there were no statistics to support the bill. I hope we are going to be improving on that. The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics apparently does not collect these statistics. All members on all sides of the committee would have liked to have had some statistics about how many people are on bail and how many commit crimes while they are on bail, et cetera.

One of the statistics presented was that, particularly in the case of violent crime, roughly 40% of the people did not end up being convicted. Therefore, a number of innocent people are charged with crimes and, under this bill, could be more likely to remain in prison.

Hopefully we would have the support of the member to try to speed up the system so that as little damage as possible will be done to an innocent person who is put in prison for that time. That person might be one of those who are in prison by accident. That person would be affected by this bill, but could later be found innocent.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by acknowledging the support of the hon. member on committee, as well as the work he did to make sure that we did move forward. It was a lengthy study. We did a lot of work. We heard a lot of witnesses.

As he pointed out, we did not necessarily hear specifics that went back historically a long way, but we certainly did hear from witness after witness that, based on their experiences, this is a necessary piece of legislation. It had to be put forward.

As the member pointed out, the statistic of 40% was put forward. Having said that, I also note that it did not necessarily include the fact that a number of individuals who are charged end up pleading guilty to lesser charges, not necessarily the original charge, but certainly a lesser charge as to degree.

However, certainly the intent of the legislation is to ensure that we are proactive. It is to ensure that we are proactive in the sense that certainly for criminals who are repeat offenders, and who have shown that they will offend again, it is up to them to prove, while on bail and while their charge is being held, that they have a right to move forward in a process that is going to be fair to them.

At the same time, we need to ensure, as many of the witnesses indicated, that justice will prevail, that those who are guilty will be found guilty, and that those who are not guilty certainly will not have to spend an extraordinary amount of time waiting for trial.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, about two years ago when there were a large number of gun crimes in Toronto I was involved in investigating what we could do in the community to reduce gun crime.

Aside from a serious investment in intervention and prevention programs, the mayor of the city of Toronto at the time, together with the chief of police, were pushing for a reverse onus in bail hearings for firearms-related charges. We know it is important. It is very demoralizing for a neighbourhood when someone is arrested and charged with a series of serious gun crimes yet gets bail and is back out in the community in a few days.

Will there be an evaluation, perhaps in a year, to see if Bill C-35, this amendment to the Criminal Code, has the positive impact that it is supposed to have, so that we know whether this amendment actually works or not? Will there be some kind of evaluation or reporting back to Parliament?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

When good legislation is enacted, Mr. Speaker, and in regard to the opportunity for review and updates and the opportunity to ensure that success has been met, it is something that the committee certainly has talked about. It did not necessarily recommend that, but it certainly talked about how a future justice committee could take a look back at it to see if the foundation that was laid with Bill C-35 was successful. I think it will be. That success will be clear as we move forward.

One of the difficulties, though, as everyone knows, is that we will never know when we have stopped someone from committing a serious crime, perhaps a murder. We will never know whether or not it has been prevented. That is the one difficulty the committee faced. It is certainly one that needs to be looked at in terms of review.

The member for Trinity—Spadina mentioned community programs. I would point out that the 2006 budget laid out community programs. The Minister of Public Safety certainly made announcements on it over the last year. I am not even going to talk about what the figure may be, because I think the figure is not as important as the recognition that this government has put this forward and has asked communities to come forward with programs for youth to make sure they have an education and an opportunity rather than belonging to a gang or, certainly, picking up a gun.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the hon. member's speech. I am very supportive of Bill C-35. It is a very important new law that the government is bringing in on reverse onus for serious crimes committed with guns.

Specifically, the chief of police in Toronto, Ontario OPP commissioner Julian Fantino, and my own Chief McLaren are very supportive of this bill. They are very frustrated with the revolving door justice system that they feel we have adopted here in Canada, whereby the offenders are often back out on the street before the police have even been able to leave the courthouse.

I would like to know whether the hon. member feels that this bill addresses those concerns. Does he feel it will be well received by chiefs of police in Canada?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, we heard presentations at committee and there were very few. If I recall, I think only one organization came forward and said that it did not necessarily support the bill. At the special subcommittee that studied this bill, not one organization or one individual, except that one, said that this was not the right thing to do and that it would not prevent future crimes from happening.

The Montreal police indicated very clearly that this was much needed and that it was long overdue. It was brought forward in a way that showed all party support. Members of police associations and the chiefs believe this is a step in the right direction and that it will make their jobs easier.

The fact that they put so much work into moving forward on an arrest, they believe that putting good evidence forward will then allow the courts to take over. They will have the assurance that it will be up to the individual who is charged to prove to the court that they deserve the right to be outside of the institution that they would be held in.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences).

The attorney general in my province supports the bill, as does the Liberal Party of Canada. This is part of a collection of government legislation that we tried to fast-track in March, including the age of consent legislation and a number of other bills. We tried to move them forward but the government inexplicably blocked our efforts to pass four major pieces of legislation dealing with criminals and criminal activity through the House in one day. Half of the government's legislative agenda on criminal activities could have been passed but the government chose not to. Those members can explain that to their constituents.

People have a lot of misconceptions on who is committing gun crimes and where the guns are coming from. Murders are not being committed by law-abiding citizens who get the background checks done, get the firearms acquisition certificate and then go out and hunt or engage in target practice. Murders are being committed by criminals who get these guns that are generally brought into Canada by gun traffickers.

Guns are often intimately attached to drug trafficking. In fact, trafficking in drugs, guns, other weapons or other contraband is part of what fuels organized crime financially. Guns are just another product to organized crime. The profound tragedy of this is that guns are used to kill people. Many of the guns used in homicides have been brought into this country illegally. They are not used by law-abiding people who get the firearms acquisition certificate. They are used by thugs. With the tough regulations that we have today, these thugs can only get guns illegally. They are brought up primarily from the United States.

It is important for us to focus on that. It is important for us not to veer off into initiatives that have nothing to do with dealing with the people who are committing these crimes. At the end of the day, those initiatives will not reduce crime in our country, which is why we are supporting this initiative.

This legislation is part of a whole collection of legislation that we introduced when we were in government that would have given Canada one of the toughest anti-pedophile laws in the world. Our legislation dealt with strong initiatives against sexual predators, tougher sentences for violent offenders and tougher penalties for those who engage in organized criminal activities. These individuals are actually criminals dressed in business suits.

It is also important for us to implement other initiatives that would make our country safer. One of the most important responsibilities that we have as elected officials is to implement solutions that ensure that our citizens are living in a safe environment.

Let us look at the prison population and at some of the antecedents as to why they are there. What kind of people are in jail? Some of them are bad and nasty people, which is why the federal government should listen to its provincial counterparts. I was having a conversation here with one of my colleagues. The provinces have a big challenge. The police are having a challenge on the ground with respect to this revolving door of people being arrested, going into the system and then coming out quickly. It is disheartening, immoral and defeating for our police officers and our correctional officers who work so ardently to keep our streets safe.

What could the government do? A lot of the people in prison have drug problems and psychiatric problems. It is estimated that 40% of them have fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effect. This is a shocking number given the fact that fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effect is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in newborns in Canada. It is completely preventable. It would be very smart for the health minister and the justice minister to work with their provincial counterparts to find comprehensive, doable and effective solutions that prevent fetal alcohol syndrome.

It is heartbreaking to see these children with an average IQ of 70. They have incredible difficulties in school and end up falling through the gaps. The teachers cannot handle them and, as a result, some of them act out with predictable consequences. When we go to a jail and we see who is there, we see a panoply of people with different issues.

I hope the government works on a rational drug policy but not the policy in the United States that has resulted in an increased use of both hard and soft drugs, a greater number of people in the prison population, more cost to the taxpayer and less safe streets because that does not work.

We do not need to have a binary situation between our solution and the United States. We could look to Europe. Europe has implemented some very sensible solutions in terms of a drug policy that does a lot in terms of harm reduction. I know the government does not particularly like harm reduction. It only extended the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver for one year instead of three years and it would be a catastrophic mistake if the government were to stop that program.

Why does the government not work with the scientists and the researchers who have done intelligent work on the ground to reduce harm? At the Insite safe injection site, for example, not only was there a reduction in property crime but more people actually became attached to the health care system. As a result, they could access the health care system and use the detox site therapy. A lot of these people have what we call dual diagnosis, which means that some have drug problems and some have psychiatric problems but some of them go hand in hand. We cannot tease these things out in isolation. We need to deal with people for the collection of problems they have. The harm reduction strategies work very well.

The Insite program works well because it gets people off the street. What would be smarter, and I know this would be a real leap for the government, would be to adopt something like the NAOMI project in Vancouver where individuals are given the drug in an environment which disconnects them from going out on the street and buying it from those people who are attached to organized crime.

The worst thing we could do for members of organized crime that would actually cause them to get weak in the knees and be beside themselves with grief is to sever the ties between the drug user and organized crime. We can do that. I know people will say that it is not the business of the government to go out and give addicts drugs but these people will go out and buy drugs from people attached to organized crime and that serves no one.

If we can bring people into the health care system through a harm reduction site, particularly a harm reduction site where they get their drugs, then we can attach them to detox and get them into psychiatric therapy and the treatment they require. This would be something that the government could rationally adopt to deal with this problem.

When the government puts the population in jail, it should make sentence reductions conditional on those individuals participating ardently in the skills training, the psychiatric therapy and the drug therapy that would be mandated to them when they come in front of the court.

People would automatically get one-third off their sentence, which is frequently reduced more, and no conditions would be placed on the individual. It would be a lot smarter if that person had to work for that release by being able to get time off for good behaviour if they actually behaved well.

These people would need to follow the parameters set during sentencing, including the psyche therapy, harm reduction and drug therapy, as well as the skills training. When these people left jail they would then have the skills needed to get a job, their drug problem would, hopefully, be dealt with to a degree and they would be in the medical system where their psyche problems are being dealt with.

Some psychiatric problems are chronic. They may be one of the major psychosis, which is difficult to deal with, but at least they would have a head start when they got out of jail. If these problems are not dealt with while they are in jail, many of them go back to what they did before. As a result, we see the recidivism rate that plagues some populations within the citizen population.

It is also important to look at the population that engages in gun crimes. In Toronto, for example, 40% to 50% of the individuals who actually committed violent offences with a gun were actually on probation or on bail. These individuals were repeat offenders. They had been convicted and were out on bail and 40% to 50% of them committed gun offences. I think it is a really good idea in terms of putting the reverse onus upon them because we are dealing with a very fixed group of individuals who have committed violent offences.

The other thing that is worthwhile to bear in mind is that most people who commit murder do not use a gun. They use knives, baseball bats and other tools to murder another individual. It would be wise to extend the notion of reverse onus to those individuals who have committed violent offences, such as sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm, attempted murder and murder, as a starting group. We would then be dealing with a fixed population of people who have been proven to be a danger and a threat to society. We can look at the small population and ascertain, based on their behaviour and activities in jail, whether or not they are safe to be released.

One of the toughest things I had to do when I was working in a jail was to assess an individual who was about to be released. Some of these individuals had lists as long as their arms in terms of extreme violent behaviour. I remember being attacked by an individual in his cell, which was proof in terms of getting that person into a psychiatric facility. However, what if the correctional officers had not really been aware or called a physician to do the assessment on that individual to get him into hospital? The system should be sufficient to analyze a person to determine whether or not he or she is actually in a position to be released safely into society.

We are treading into very challenging ground in terms of people's rights but I am sure smart minds out there could put together a framework where people's personal rights would be protected but also the rights of society would be honoured as well.

While this is a difficult area to tread ethically, it is important that the government tackle it. I am sure that many people the House, as well as people in the public service and in Canada, have experience and knowledge in this area and perhaps they could guide the government in implementing a rational policy to do so.

I want to emphasize that we can do many things in terms of preventing a lot of problems from occurring. We can do things for those who are convicted and in jail. It is not a simple situation of focusing on higher penalties for individuals who have committed crimes. While those are important under certain circumstances, we need to look deeper into the situation to implement the solutions that work.

I have probably said this 100 times in the House over the last 14 years but I will harp on it again. The Head Start program for kids works when we look at it purely through the issue of youth crime. If I were to tell the House that there is a plan that reduces youth crime by 60%, a plan that saves the taxpayer $7 for every $1 invested, would members not think that was a plan that the government should adopt? A wise government would look at it and not simply dismiss it out of hand as some sort of woolly-headed notion.

The reality is that these programs have more than 25 years' experience and have been analyzed by very competent researchers. Those headstart programs work to strengthen the parent-child bond. They help parents, particularly vulnerable parents, access the parenting skills that they require. That has a profound impact on the development of the child.

In the first eight years of life is when a child's brain is actually developing the neuro connections. Those brain connections occur at that sensitive time. If it is done right, those brain connections work well and the child has the pillars and resiliency within his or her psyche to deal with many challenges. However, subject that child to violence, sexual abuse, poor nutrition, an absence of adequate parenting, and those connections simply do not work as well. Frequently that is the case, but not always.

If we are able to give that child that head start, if that child is able to develop his or her brain during that critical first eight years in a competent way, then that child truly has the ability to live a life that anybody would hope for an individual. Depriving the child of those basic elements, subjecting that child to those horrible events damages the child sometimes forever.

We often hear horror studies of individuals who commit horrible crimes. Sometimes it is difficult for us to sympathize with those individuals given the horrible things they have done and they pay the price. It should also cause us to reflect that things happened in the history of that individual who has committed horrible crimes.

If we are smart we would work with the provinces to implement that headstart program because it works. I am going to try to do that this summer in my riding. There are four teachers who have volunteered to do it. I hope by September we will be able to roll it out as a pilot project in Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. If it works, maybe it could be shared with teachers in other areas of our country.

One of the most remarkable programs is the Hawaii healthy start program. It reduced child abuse rates a staggering 99%. It looked at parents who were vulnerable, parents who did not have good parenting skills, who themselves lived in vulnerable and sometimes horrible environments. Those parents were matched with women who had had their kids and who had strong parenting skills. In building that mentorship program with those vulnerable parents, child abuse rates were reduced 99%. That is pretty amazing.

It is not complex. It is not rocket science. It is pretty easy to do. It does require leadership.This leadership could be exercised at the federal level, even though the implementation and operation of it would be at the provincial level. I think all of us know that our provincial counterparts are looking for leadership. They are looking for help. They are looking for a hand and it is not that we do not have a plan or a program to do this.

I encourage the government to work with our provincial counterparts on that. I strongly encourage the government to look at the harm reduction strategies that work, to adopt those strategies, to support those strategies across our country.

For heaven's sake, I would ask that the government not cut harm reduction. I would ask it not to cut the Insite safe injection site. I would ask it not to stop the NAOMI project in Vancouver. Rather, it should look at those projects and see how other communities in Canada that want to adopt these programs can have access to these programs.

The failure to do so would result in the deaths of thousands of people in our country, the spread of communicable diseases, some of which are fatal. The costs to the taxpayer would be extraordinary.