Debates of May 5th, 2009
House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was organizations.
- Question Period
- Government Response to Petitions
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- Starred Questions
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- Presence in Gallery
- Points of Order
- Criminal Code
- Business of the House
- Criminal Code
- Human Pathogens and Toxins Act
- Service Canada
- Seal Hunt
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. This is a committee chair I am very fond of and I know how he loves music. There is something of Charles Aznavour about him, which we like.
I believe we must be very clear. If someone has been found guilty 150 times in his province without any proper sentence, I would hope that the Crown prosecutors of that province would do their job and file an appeal. I would like to be shown evidence of a case where a person was found guilty of 150 car thefts without any proper sentence.
I understand, moreover, that in this bill, as I believe I explained in my speech, the matter of minimum sentences is less of a concern because these apply to convictions on indictment. Prosecutors do, however, have total freedom to opt for summary conviction, where there is no minimum.
I do not want to commit myself today to the kind of amendment we will be making. We will study the matter and work very seriously in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We will listen to the witnesses. I would repeat, however, that we are opposed in principle to the inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences in government bills for reasons I have had an opportunity to explain on numerous occasions in this House.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, as I indicated, Winnipeg went from the car theft capital of Canada, to a day last month where absolutely no cars were stolen. We did that through an immobilizer program and a gang suppression unit.
Now, if 15 years ago the previous federal government had required car manufacturers to install immobilizers in their cars for a $30 fee, which is what it would have cost, this problem would have been taken care of. This was under the previous Liberal government. It takes about 13 years to get the old cars off the road.
We have managed to do it in only two years in Manitoba, by enforcing the immobilizer program and getting them into cars, and by giving people an insurance reduction. We have proven it will work.
If the government would simply require that all new cars being sold in Canada have immobilizers, this problem would solve itself. I understand that last year the government in fact did that; it has required that all new cars have immobilizers.
Does the member have any comments about what the previous Liberal government failed to do over the last 13 years?
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.
I think that there is an element of a worthwhile solution there. Do we need to require all car manufacturers to include an immobilizer? I did not think that was the case, I believed it was not mandatory. But I will consider his suggestion. We will certainly have occasion in committee to verify whether installation is mandatory or optional. We should perhaps follow the lines of the solution Manitoba has gone for.
I promise our colleague that we will look into this in committee.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-26. It is important to set this in a timeline context.
For a good number of years, somewhere between 7 and 10 years, it has been quite apparent that we have a major problem with regard to car thefts. At one point, we almost had a competition, on an annual basis, as to which city would be the car theft capital of the country. This is not something about which we did not know. It is not something about which the previous Liberal government did not know. It is certainly not something about which the current government did not know.
I will make some comments on why the government has not addressed this problem. It is true not only about these amendments to the code, but a good number of others as well. The strategy and tactic of the government calls for criticism.
First I will deal with this bill and why it has taken so long to get here. The bill had a predecessor in the last Parliament, which was tabled for first reading in April of 2008. Coincidentally, at that point, the Conservative Party and the Conservative chair of the justice committee was using one of their tactics in the justice committee, which was also used in at least in three or four other committees, of destroying the functionality of that committee.
His initial stance with regard to the issue was one that I supported. However, once it was obvious the majority of the committee would overrule him on that, he refused to allow the committee to function. Therefore, from April of 2008 until after the election, the committee did not meet. It did absolutely nothing. The predecessor to this bill, which was Bill C-53 in the last Parliament, simply sat with nothing happening on it, as did all the other work of the justice committee on all the other justice and crime bills.
There was not only this role by the Conservative chair of the committee, but then the election intervened. I am sure there was no consideration given to the bill or any other crime bills at the time when the Prime Minister decided to have an election. We had the election, we came back to work and in December the Prime Minister decided to prorogue, again I am sure without consideration to the reality of the need for legislation in a number of areas in the Criminal Code.
We finally saw the first crime bill in February of 2009. The justice committee did not get to consider a crime bill for a whole year, from April 2008 until April 2009. That was the first government bill it had any opportunity to deal with all because of the conduct of the government.
In addition to that, in terms of specific events, the government has been absolutely determined to use crime and crime issues for partisan political purposes. From the very time the Conservatives were elected, and we can maybe argue that the tactic and strategy existed even before they were elected, they would take an individual issue and introduce a bill that would have a very narrow scope and few clauses to it to deal with the issue. The Minister of Justice would have a press conference, issue press releases and create news stories around the fact that they were addressing an issue.
Then a week or two later, the Conservatives would choose another issue as opposed to doing what they should have done, which was to address all the issues of which the government and Parliament were aware. In a large number of cases, they had all party support. In spite of that all party support, they continued with this strategy, and have continued with it right up to today.
It is a strategy that I think more and more people are recognizing for its lack of credibility, if the government is really serious about getting tough on crime as opposed to being smart on crime, which it does not seem to be capable of doing.
Last week the justice committee was in Vancouver. One of the tactics of the Conservatives when they asked questions of the witnesses was to tell them what they had done. They would list the bills and then ask the witnesses if they agreed with them. Their specific tactic was to address each issue separately. In fact, I think that specific question was put to the mayor of Surrey. He responded by saying he did not agree with them. He said that a lot of issues needed to be addressed. He was speaking from a community that had been particularly hard hit by crime in the last few months. He said there was no time to wait for the government to address them one at a time.
That is the point I have been making repeatedly for the last several years, as I have watched the government turn crime and crime issues to its partisan advantage as much as it can.
We need a major revamp of the Criminal Code. This is my version of what the 2009 Criminal Code should be. I believe at least a third to a half of it could be done away with and accommodated into fewer and clearer sections, sections that would be easier for our police, our prosecutors and our judges to enforce.
The best way of doing that review of the code and bringing it up into the 21st century would have been to commission the Law Commission to conduct a review, prepare a white paper on it and get a whole new Criminal Code that would be much shorter, much clearer and much simpler to enforce. What did the government do? It did away with the Law Commission, by refusing to fund it any more. That was two budgets ago. We are now faced with this.
Now we come to this bill and to the issue of auto theft. It should have been addressed by the Liberals when they were in power a good number of years ago. It should have obviously been addressed, as well, by the current government. It should have been dealt with effectively by including it into several omnibus bills, which could have been brought forward much more efficiently.
I want to make one more point about not using small omnibus bills. I am talking about addressing five to ten issues all at once. When we follow the strategy and tactics of the government, we need to have hearings on each one of the bills. We have to call witnesses, oftentimes witnesses who would address each one of these sections if they were in an omnibus bill. Now they have to come back repeatedly. Our justice department officials have to spend all this extra time in hearings, watching each bill go through. They are there to assist in that regard. The strategy the government is employing is a great waste of time, energy and resources. It is not fair to the witnesses and it is certainly not fair to the Canadian public.
When we deal with this specific bill and the issue of auto theft, we need to look at the effect it will have. I want to be very clear that we are supportive of creating the new offence. We are supportive of creating an offence that would make tampering with the VIN number a crime. This issue was around at the time I was in law school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has taken us all this time to finally deal with it.
We are dealing with, as well, introducing a new section on the whole concept of trafficking in stolen goods. It was not in the bill of last April. I have some problems with this. It is a concept, outside of trafficking in drugs, that is fairly new. We have to be very careful as to whether it will survive, not so much a charter challenge, but a challenge as to whether the offence is clear enough and the risk that it could be struck down for that. I have some difficulty with the way the section has been drafted. We will have to take a very close look at it.
I want to echo some of the comments of my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona on what the Manitoba government has done. We heard this from members of a delegation in Ottawa last year. They probably would have been at one point in front of the justice committee, but the committee was not sitting due to the tactics of the Conservatives on the committee.
They told all the caucuses what they needed with regard to fighting auto theft. They also told us what they had done. It has been the most effective tactic in the country. My colleague said that there was one day last week where there was not one auto theft in all Manitoba. Two years ago Winnipeg was the auto theft capital of the country. There were literally as many as 50 to 100 thefts of cars on a daily basis in that city.
The statistics my colleagues from all parties are using with regard to auto theft are somewhat dated. Members are using figures from 2006 and 2007. If we look at 2008, and I believe even more so what we see at the end of 2008 and 2009, cities like Winnipeg and Vancouver have moved dramatically to reduce the amount of auto theft. They have not done this with legislation, and I am not taking away the need for the legislation. In the case of Vancouver it has used practical police tactics. In the case of Manitoba, the provincial government has used its public auto insurance to, in effect, force people to put an anti-theft immobilizing device on their car for free, if they want auto insurance. This issue came up, but I cannot remember in what other context.
Representatives of the Insurance Bureau of Canada officials were in front of the committee at one point in the last year. I asked if they proposed their private sector companies do the same thing. They said, no, that they believed in freedom of choice. In spite of this, as we heard from my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, IBC has a brief which shows the amount that auto theft costs it.
One thing the government should do is urge provincial governments, which have public insurance plans, to follow the model in Manitoba. It has literally cut auto theft by over 60% in a little over a year. That is an effective tool.
Today the chair of the justice committee spoke about Vancouver and its use of bait cars. I remember seeing one of the examples on national TV. I watched an individual being recorded, taped, all of it, not realizing he was in a bait car. The individual was subsequently apprehended, charged and convicted.
We could use those kinds of techniques, and the federal government should urge the provinces to do so. Their responsibility is enforcement.
Finally, from a practical standpoint, the government needs to comply with its promise that it will put more police on the streets. The use of the bait car, for instance, would be much more effective in Vancouver if there were more police officers there. When we were there last week, it was again confirmed that it had the lowest proportion of police officers to the general population of any major city in the country. In spite of the protestations of innocence and compliance by the government that it would put those extra 2,500 officers on the streets of this country, it has hardly met any of that.
With regard to the specifics, we agree that making auto theft a specific separate offence makes sense. It will make it easier for us to get convictions.
However, I do not want to mislead the Canadian public, as opposed to Manitoba driving down by almost two-thirds its auto theft because of its tactics around auto insurance. The figure we saw was as much as 47% of auto thefts reduced in Vancouver over the last two years from its peak, where it is now.
This section will not reduce auto theft to any significant degree. I would accord it a one to three percentile potential of reducing auto theft. We still need it because it will make it easier for our police and prosecutors to get convictions in very specific types of cases.
The need for the VIN number is a section that is really important because it targets members of organized crime. They are the ones that change the VIN numbers. They take it off if they can or in some other way alter it, and oftentimes ship the vehicle out of the country. It is very important that section gets passed.
I have made comments on the trafficking. It makes sense for us to be doing that. I am just not sure this section will accomplish it.
I do want to make one concern public at this point. The government is imposing additional responsibilities for enforcement of both export and import of stolen vehicles and stolen auto parts on the Canada Border Services Agency. There has been nothing in what the minister said when the government made the bill public in that usual press conference it always has. There was nothing about providing additional financial resources to our Border Services Agency.
Living on the border-crossing that is the busiest in the country, border officers are way over-taxed already in trying to deal with the trafficking of people, the trafficking in guns and the trafficking in drugs. That is true of our Border Services Agency at just about every crossing in this country. Unless additional financial resources and additional staff are put into it, this part of the section will be ineffective because there is no way they will be able to enforce it.
Finally, we have the concern that the Bloc has, and I want to address a couple of points to that, particularly the introduction of a mandatory minimum here after a third conviction for auto theft.
I want to be very clear that there are other sections of the bill that are clearly going after the organized crime sector, which has been estimated to be anywhere from 20% to 40% of all stolen vehicles in the country. They tend to be the high end ones, but not always.
We have to understand the way the system works. The organized crime members do not steal the cars themselves. They find people, usually young people, to do that. This section will be used primarily against young people, oftentimes people who have already been in conflict with the law in other ways, have other convictions, and oftentimes are abusers of drugs and alcohol.
In terms of what we should be doing to make these amendments most effective in reducing auto theft in this country is to be targeting organized crime. As I have said, I give the government full credit for doing that belatedly because it has taken it so long, but a good number of these sections are directed right at that. This one is not. This one will not get anybody who is a real senior member or even a mid-level member of an organized crime gang. It will be hitting those young people who are picked up, oftentimes from other sources and used specifically for this purpose. That is all it will be for.
Generally, mandatory minimums do not work and this will be another one of those cases where it will have no impact at all.
Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for such a strong speech.
I myself have been a police officer for 18 years. In my policing service, I have seen a lot of clients out there who steal cars repeatedly, over and over again.
One of my stories that I would like to point out is as follows. I was working on a night shift and, lo and behold, Johnny goes driving by. He is in the car. I subsequently pull it over and the car is stolen. This is not the first time Johnny has stolen a car. It is about the fourth or fifth time. I arrest him, release him the next morning, take him to court, and he is released. What does Johnny say? “Nothing is going to happen to me”. Where do I see him again? He is stealing another car.
When we talk about maximum sentences, they are only used as guidelines. Now, as a government, we are trying to act as a deterrent. I can only see mandatory minimum sentences as working.
What I see here today is gone the common sense of protecting victims. The victims are the ones who are suffering here. What about Mary, who has just had her car stolen for the second time or the time third because that is all she can afford, and who now has to pay the insurance premium to get her car fixed? That could be $500, $700 or $1,000. She cannot afford that.
Our government is trying to make a means in which to protect everyday citizens. All I hear are lawyers standing up in the House trying to play on this maximum sentence. From a policing standpoint, my colleague mentioned 2,500 police officers. If it were not for the Liberals—
The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer
Order. The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am not sure there was a question there, it seemed to be all commentary.
Let me say a couple of things to the member. One, he cannot, in spite of all his years of experience in the police field, point me or this House to one study that shows that mandatory minimum penalties work with very few exceptions.
I have been a supporter of mandatory minimums with regard to impaired driving because that whole strategy that we as a legislature and as a country developed, the educational part of it, the enforcement part of it, and the legislative part of it, was an effective mechanism to reduce impaired driving. But even now the numbers of impaired driving are slipping back up. Even in that area, it is questionable, long-term, whether a mandatory minimum works.
I want to go back to the immobilizer, the locking device. Johnny, as he described him, would not have been able to penetrate that immobilizer. We know there are some very sophisticated, organized crime engendered crimes and thefts, and we know there are some of them who have figured out a way to break through the immobilizer. It is very rare, but it is possible. But Johnny is not going to break through the immobilizer. That is the most effective way.
What I am concerned about when I talk about protecting the Canadian public is effective techniques that will do it. This legislation is only going to touch a very small part of that. If we really want to be effective, we have to have some way of shutting it down so the car does not get stolen in the first place.
Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for coming out to beautiful British Columbia last week and listening to British Columbians when it comes to crime issues.
On one side, when we look at my neighbours in Surrey, they are concerned about car thefts. We need to have some kind of legislation to make sure that they are protected against those car thieves. On the other hand, I also have a border that is minutes away from my riding, which is also very busy. I have come to know that the government has cut funding so that the CBSA cannot hire any more new officers.
How would this hon. member suggest the government handle these issues, so that on one side we can have the laws and on the other hand we have the enforcement to deal with these situations?
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I think the key is the approach that we take on it, as opposed to the government's approach where it is simplistic. We throw a mandatory minimum or two at it and maybe create a new offence, and that is going to solve the problem. If we approach it on that basis, all that does is accept that we have failed, we are going to have crime, and we are only going to penalize it.
The approach has to be, I believe, based on three principles: first, is prevention; second, is enforcement; and the third, is punitive. We have to think of the punitive as being our last resort.
When we talk to the insurance bureau and when we talk to individual car owners, does it really matter if the person gets three months, six months or two years if their car has been trashed and stripped down for parts? What they want is the car not to be stolen.
What we should be looking at, at any given time, is the basic principle of what do we need to put into play that will prevent the car from being stolen in the first place. That is true about any crime. The way to do that is to put more police officers on the street. We know that is the case and it is a particular problem in the Vancouver area.
Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh is certainly one of the brightest minds on justice issues in the House of Commons.
As he knows, in British Columbia, Gordon Campbell is being strongly criticized for saying that he was going to be smart on crime and then cutting back on crown prosecutors and cutting back on corrections officials. He is actually being very hypocritical on that.
We have the same problem with the federal Conservatives. They have cut crime prevention programs, they refuse to keep their promises around additional police officers across the country. We have had cutbacks in the court system and perhaps most egregiously but symbolically, police officers came here on the Hill just a few weeks ago asking, as they have now for years, for a public safety officer compensation fund. The Conservative government continues to say no to protecting the families of police officers and firefighters who fall in the line of duty.
How more hypocritical can the Conservatives be than to offer some legislation but refusing to take action on any other issue?
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I have to say to my colleague that I have been admonished by the Speaker for using the term hypocrisy when referring to someone else. Therefore, I will not be able to echo that sentiment.
However, there is a serious lack of credibility on the part of the government when it does all of the PR work that it does and promotes itself as being tough on crime and then we have the Canadian Professional Police Association coming out and saying, “You promised us 2,500 police officers. You didn't deliver. You betrayed us”. That is its word. “Betrayal” was its word.
If we need a validator on the credibility of the government on the issue of tough on crime, I do not know who else we could turn to better than the police association.
Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I always appreciate and enjoy listening to the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.
I wonder if he would address a couple of points. He made the point with respect to the way we package these bills. He said we have done them individually and that we should be putting them all together.
Would he not admit, because he was in the previous Parliament and had an opportunity to see our justice legislation, that but for the fact that the ones that we could not get passed individually, we put them all together into the Tackling Violent Crime Act. We would not have passed that bill through the House of Commons and the Senate but for the fact that we threatened, when we introduced the bill, that either it gets passed in its present form or we would call an election. In February 2008 I went to the Senate and I made the same point there, that either the Senate gets this thing passed by the end of February or my advice to the Prime Minister would be to call an election.
Would the member not admit that that is the only reason we were able to get that passed because otherwise we would get what is known as cherry-picking. People do not like one section and they want an amendment with endless witnesses before them. That is the one thing.
I disagree with him with respect to somebody who gets convicted of three auto thefts. I actually consider that a very serious crime. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you have been on this issue and that you have shown some leadership on this. I have to disagree with the member on the idea that he is just a poor fellow mixed up on drugs and alcohol, and that he has only been convicted three times of stealing a car.
I challenge the member to call up the Attorney General for Manitoba. This is not another member of the Conservative Party who just wants to get tough on crime. I would ask the member to talk to him. I have been to Winnipeg six times in the last 14 months and he makes that point to me again and again.
We get a certain small number of people out of control who are repeatedly stealing cars, and picking them up even if they get a conviction. The Manitoba government wants action on this. It thinks that six months after one has been convicted for the third time, and again it is at the option of the Crown to proceed by indictment, that it is time the individual spent some time to break up this kind of criminal activity that he or she has been guilty of.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, let me deal with the two questions. First, in terms of the strategy they used to try to force the Senate to finally respond, the reality of putting that all together was that we ended up between elections losing one of the bills that I was particularly interested in. We ended up having to go back over the issue of raising the age of consent for sexual attacks.
I think that strategy was a purely partisan one of trying to get the Liberal senators to come on side. It did not speed up the processing of those five bills. In fact, because we then had an election, several of those bills ended up having to go back through the whole process again, through the House and then back up to the Senate. So I do not agree at all with his analysis that the strategy was an effective one.
With regard to the second part, I am hearing from the prosecutors and attorneys general as well that the real problem we are having with a lot of the lighter sentences that are being given, because there is not any mandatory minimum, is that we do not have enough time for the prosecutors, and in many cases the police who assist the prosecutors, in putting forth enough evidence to get decent ones. After three offences or 50 offences, does six months make sense? It does not make sense. We want something longer than—
Business of the House
May 5th, 2009 / 4:35 p.m.
Gordon O'Connor Minister of State and Chief Government Whip
Mr. Speaker, I move:
That, when the House begins proceedings under the provisions of Standing Order 53.1 later today, no quorum calls, requests for unanimous consent or dilatory motions shall be received by the Speaker and provided that Members be permitted to split their time by so indicating to the Chair.