House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was legislation.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

June 8th, 2009 / 3:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

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

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (limiting credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody), be read the third time and passed.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Winnipeg North had the floor for questions and comments consequent upon her speech. There are five minutes remaining in the time allotted for questions and comments. I therefore call for questions or comments.

Seeing none, resuming debate.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak about an issue that is of tremendous concern to my Etobicoke North riding, namely crime and reducing crime.

My riding is next door to Pearson International Airport and it is where many newcomers come to settle and work long hours for minimum wage, even if they were physicians or professionals back home. It is also home to a high number of single mothers, many holding down multiple jobs just to put food on the table for their children.

Consequently, over 19% of households in Etobicoke North's ward 1 and 16% in ward 2 have income under $20,000. Sadly, Etobicoke North has one of the highest crime rates in the greater Toronto area, including attempted murders, homicide, sexual assaults and other assaults. Our community also has neighbourhoods under siege, where gangs and guns are a cold hard fact of life. It has therefore been identified as 1 of 13 at-risk neighbourhoods by the city of Toronto and United Way.

In 2006 Pastor Andrew King of the Seventh-day Adventists Church described a funeral service of yet another shooting victim this way:

I'm looking at young people mourning the tragic death of this young man, surrounding a casket. And then, amidst the outpouring of tears and sorrow, the unthinkable happened. I hear pop-pop-pop. And it was outside the building. Someone then came in and said, someone's been shot.

More recently in 2008, shots tore through the window of a Rexdale coffee shop, sending four men to hospital.

My constituents, like those of other communities want the violence to stop. Therefore, I will be supporting Bill C-25, better known as the truth in sentencing act.

A judge may allow credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody in order to reduce the later sentence, largely because holding centres are overcrowded and prisoners wait too long for trials.

Clayton Ruby, one of Canada's leading defence lawyers, described detention centres as a humiliation and explained that credit was developed by courts to ease the hardship of those awaiting trial.

Canadians largely support the credit system. A national justice survey in 2007 showed that more than 75% of respondents thought that credit should be allowed in cases of non-violent offences; however, almost 60% believed that credit should not be allowed for persons convicted of serious violent offences.

Currently, for every one day served in pre-sentencing custody, a two day credit is generally given toward regular detention. Some argue that the two to one day ratio is too generous because, instinctively, it does not make common sense when convicted criminals walk out of court largely free on the day of their sentencing or have their lengthy sentences significantly reduced. For example, kidnappers recently had their sentences reduced by six years due to a two for one credit. And the formula may be applied without verifying that conditions are really harsher in pre-sentencing custody than in regular detention.

Bill C-25 would amend the Criminal Code to limit credit for time served. Under the new legislation, a judge may allow a maximum credit of one day for each day spent in pre-sentencing custody; however, if the circumstances justify it, a judge may extend the credit to 1.5 days.

The bill is the result of an agreement reached at the federal-provincial-territorial meetings of ministers of justice held in 2006 and 2007 at which the ministers decided to limit the credit for pre-sentencing custody and had proposed rules similar to the ones set out in the bill. There is strong support for this bill.

For example, Chris Bentley, the Attorney General of Ontario, welcomes the move to end the practice of giving convicted criminals double time credit, and said that it would speed up the criminal justice system. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which has been urging the government to eliminate the two for one pretrial credit since 2000 and to bring greater accountability and consistency to the sentencing process, also welcomes the introduction of the legislation and urges all parliamentarians to pass the bill quickly.

Despite the positive feedback, the Criminal Lawyers Association calls the proposal “a step backward” that would “promote harsher sentences, produce fewer guilty pleas and give Parliament's approval to inhumane detention facilities”.

Our American neighbours have undertaken a 25 year experiment with mandatory minimum sentences for the so-called war on drugs. We need to carefully look at the evidence of what has and has not worked in the United States as well as other jurisdictions. We must ask ourselves whether we want to turn Canadian correctional institutions and penitentiaries into U.S.-style inmate warehouses.

We all know there are no quick simple fixes to reducing crime, nor are there one-size-fits-all solutions. What other solutions must we employ?

We need a comprehensive plan to attack all forms of public violence with both short-term and long-term initiatives that address immediate concerns, such as the recent increase in gun violence.

We must build on the strengths in our neighbourhoods. We must engage agencies, parents and youth in determining the future of their communities.

A visionary principal, Michael Rossetti, from Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School, wants to build a field of dreams for Etobicoke North, a first-class track and field centre and basketball courts for the school as well as for the whole community. Etobicoke North needs that investment as there is no athletic centre in the district.

Investment in Etobicoke North would mean more students would stay in school, less youth would be looking for belonging in gangs, and more young men and women would be eager to improve their lives, if only they were given a chance.

The field of dreams project is receiving strong support from Pat Flatley, a former alumnus of the school and New York Islander captain, who has already met with Toronto's mayor, as well as Michael "Pinball" Clemons. The principal also received letters of support from Bill Blair, chief of the Toronto Police Service, and Ron Taverner of 23 Division.

We are very fortunate in Etobicoke North to have Superintendent Ron Taverner, who believes in community development and policing. He regularly holds community handshakes, faith-based walks, and supports Breaking the Cycle, an organization aimed at getting youth out of gangs.

We must also significantly increase economic opportunities for young people. At a recent public meeting in Toronto, a youth was quoted as saying that it is easier to get a gun than a job.

We must ensure humane pretrial custody. Defence lawyer Heather Pringle described a potential situation as being locked down for 18 hours at a time, no access to rehabilitative programs coupled with nights spent sharing a cramped cell with two other guys, a shared toilet and some vermin.

We must ensure timely trials. To do this we need more courts, more facilities, and more judges.

Finally, Bill C-25 targets punishment. When might we see legislation targeted at prevention?

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, not only was I impressed but I was very moved by the comments made by the member for Etobicoke North in her presentation on Bill C-25.

The Liberals are going to support this good piece of legislation.

My colleague took us into a different area and talked about preventing crime, the future and about how to address the crime that unfortunately is taking place in her riding.

She said that Etobicoke North needs investment. I am hopeful that the Conservative government now realizes that we are not just talking about infrastructure as bricks and mortar but that there is human life attached to it as well. I wonder if she would comment on that so the government perhaps could be persuaded to get the money out faster.

She referred to a young person who said that if only they were given a chance. That is a powerful, moving statement. Young people need a chance. I do not think legislation is going to do it. Other things are going to be required as well. I would like her to elaborate on this as well. She also quoted a young person who said that it is easier to get a gun than to get a job. What a powerful statement. That says it all.

Does she believe that the Conservative Party would be doing the right thing if it abolished the gun registry?

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, violence is of tremendous concern in my riding. Almost 21% of constituents in my riding are single moms and 75% called somewhere else home five years ago. Many of these constituents are working two and three jobs just to put food on the table for their families. This community needs real investment and investment has not been there for decades. In many ways this is a forgotten community.

Principal Mike Rossetti has a field of dreams project, a $4 million facility that would include a track. There are students who are winning track award after track award. Unfortunately, they did not have shoes. They had been running in slippers, but people have now donated shoes. These kids deserve a chance.

An application for funding has been made under the RInC program and we are very hopeful the funding will be provided. The land has been donated by the school board and the construction is being donated. Now we need federal and provincial funding.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the member would like to know that it was the NDP premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, and Attorney General Dave Chomiak who came to Ottawa on a mission on September 20, 2007 to push for the very same things that in fact spawned this bill, the elimination of two for one remand credits. She mentioned that Bill C-25 targets punishment and she wanted to know when we were going to be targeting prevention programs. That is exactly the approach the Manitoba NDP has taken over the last number of years.

For example, we have focused on prevention with programs such as lighthouses, friendship centres and education pilot projects, as well as initiatives such as the vehicle immobilizer program, the highly successful turnabout program, and intense supervision for repeat offenders.

With regard to suppression, we have produced targeted funding for police officers, corrections and crown attorneys dealing specifically with auto theft. We have certainly beefed up consequences with the lifetime suspension of driver's licences for repeat offenders. There are provincial initiatives dealing with drinking and driving which helped reduce fatalities and injuries by 25% between 1999 and 2003.

The Manitoba government certainly has been a leader in this whole area. Some of the changes it asks for in addition to the current ones dealing with this bill were to provide stronger penalties for youth involved in serious crimes, especially those involved with auto theft, allowing first degree murder charges for gang-related homicides, classifying auto theft as an indictable violent offence, and making shootings at buildings and drive-by shootings indictable offences.

That initiative from way back on September 20, 2007 has spawned a lot of the initiatives that we see here. This comes from a forward-thinking and acting NDP government in Manitoba.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is right to point out that punishment is one part of the piece. We need a broad array of programs that will target crime. It is important to point out that some proponents hope that the enactment of Bill C-25 will unclog the courts as lawyers will be less likely to deliberately delay proceedings so their clients can be given two for one credit and think there may be shorter terms of imprisonment automatically.

Again, I would like to talk about the prevention side. This means keeping our youth and children in schools and making sure they are able to get jobs afterward.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party put forward an early learning head start program for children. The evidence shows that this type of program goes a long way to preventing a whole host of social problems. That type of program has proven to reduce youth crime by 60%. Imagine a program that reduces youth crime by 60% and has a $7 saving for every $1 invested. There is ample evidence from New Brunswick to Hawaii, to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to show without a shadow of a doubt the quantifiable evidentiary support for this program.

Does my colleague not think that the federal government is missing a huge opportunity and that it made a grave error for the security and safety of the public when it tore up the agreement with the provinces?

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, early childhood education is very important. For every dollar invested, there is a three dollar to four dollar return, particularly in vulnerable areas. When it comes to crime, the return on investment can be eight times the dollar invested, an eight dollar return for every dollar invested.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?