House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker Ms. Denise Savoie

Is it agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from November 15 consideration of the motion that Bill C-48, Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has 19 minutes left.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on this issue that is of pressing importance to all Canadians, including those in my excellent riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Of all the issues we deal with, one of the most frightening for members of the public, naturally, is the issue of violent crime. It strikes fear in everybody. In these days of the 24-hour news cycle, everyone is aware of what is happening within our country from coast to coast. When bad things happen, everyone is aware of them.

It is important, although difficult, for us to try to disarticulate what we see in the media from the facts and to determine with an objective eye what is going on and what can be done to protect our citizens. As elected officials, our primary responsibility is to do what we can and must do to protect our citizens from harm.

Let us take a look. What are the most dangerous cities in Canada? In order of ranking, the first is Port Coquitlam, B.C., then Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Calgary; then it goes down through Surrey, Halifax, Toronto and of course many others. These are the 2007 murder statistics.

Is the murder rate going up or down? Since 1990, with one small change a couple of years ago, the homicide rate has actually been in significant decline. Canada's violent crime rate is three times less than that of our friend south of the border, yet the incarceration rate in the United States is significantly higher than in Canada. In the U.S. about 0.7% of the population is in jail. In Canada it is roughly about 0.12%, which is a big difference.

The question is: What do we do and what should work in terms of dealing with violent crime?

I would like to mention a few other things that may be of interest to members in the House.

In 2006, 2.45 million crimes were reported. Of those, 48% were property-related crimes and 12.6% were violent crimes. There were 594 murders in 2007, 12 fewer than the previous year. One-third of the murders in 2007 were stabbings and another one-third involved firearms. Of the murders involving firearms, handguns were used in two-thirds. Seventy-four youths were accused of murder. That is down by 11 from the previous year. The reason I mention these statistics is to put things in context to show the challenges we are currently facing.

There is a particular area that was not included in this data, particularly in terms of cities because the cities are small, and it relates to the north. In places like Nunavut, Iqaluit and Yellowknife, the rate of violent crime is at levels that would shock Canadians from coast to coast. Let us take a look at those levels.

The most violent regions in all of Canada that were not on the list are Iqaluit, Whitehorse and Yellowknife. In Yellowknife, the rate of aggravated assault is 350% higher than the average. In Iqaluit, the aggravated assault rate is 1,033% above the Canadian average. That is absolutely shocking. According to the RCMP, the rate of sexual assault is more than 1,270% above the average. Much of the north's violent crime wave involves sexual assault, and it defies easy explanation.

Let us take a look at something that is quite staggering. If we want to look at violent crime, let us look at what happened prior to that.

In Nunavut, one-quarter of all babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome. That is absolutely remarkable. The average person with fetal alcohol syndrome has an IQ of about 67 to 70. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of preventable brain damage at birth. This is one of the problems that exists in this area.

Another challenge in the area is suicide. In Nunavut, young women 15 to 24 years of age are 36 times more likely than other Canadian women in the same demographic to commit suicide. That is absolutely shocking. It is a situation that occurs far away in the north and receives very little attention, but it is a tragedy.

In fact, conditions exist in some of these areas, particularly in first nation communities in parts of our country, that I can tell members from personal experience are essentially equivalent to what we find in the developing world, in a third world environment. That is what we have within our borders, in Canada today in 2010.

Within the milieu of some of those communities in northern British Columbia in which I have had the privilege of working, I remember, while making a house call to a gentleman to perform a post-operative checkup, seeing a toddler of four or five years old with untreated impetigo on his face. While the child was standing there with this weeping infection on his face, his uncle was flopped over, drunk at 10 o'clock in the morning, and his father was drunk and swearing at me, as was his mother.

What kind of hope does that child have when he witnesses this kind of abuse taking place right in front of him? The child has little hope at all.

I have been saying this for 17 years in this House. If we are going to be intelligent and responsible to the taxpayer, in terms of doing what is necessary to reduce violent crime, then, rather than standing in the House and saying we simply need to build more prisons and throw people in jail, why do we not be smart about it and try to prevent the crime in the first place so that victims do not have to live in trauma for the rest of their lives as a result of being victims of crime? People may adapt to the situation they have been subjected to, but many times they never really get over it. They adapt to it if they can. However, why do we not try to prevent these kinds of horrors and trauma for the people who are being victimized?

How do we do that? It is very interesting. This is not rocket science. A lot of the evidence has been gathered, and I would hope the government really takes a look at studies that have been done before and find out what works.

In Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Perry preschool program has done a 35-year retrospective analysis on early learning head start programs. It asked what we need to do to reduce violent crime and what we need to do to reduce crime in general. It found that if a child were subjected to a number of interventions, it would help. Number one was home visits by nurses from the prenatal stage all the way through to the first two years of life, every one to two weeks. The mother is able to engage with the home nurse, in terms of the questions she may have, as well as the father, enabling them to develop proper parenting for the child. Single mothers, particularly teen mothers, who are isolated are at risk. They need to be selected and engaged quickly. Nutrition is critically important, as well as teaching proper parenting.

The other thing that worked very clearly, which is interesting, is that if the children were subjected to two-and-a-half hours of preschool time per day five days a week, up to the age five, before they went into school, it had a profound impact upon the outcome for those children. This costs very little. What is the cost-benefit of this when they did the cost-benefit analysis? In the Perry preschool experience, it was a saving of seven dollars for every dollar invested.

The same thing was done in Great Britain. There are a number of excellent studies that I would encourage the government to take a look at. There was the 1996 study called “Misspent Youth”, from Great Britain; the 1998 study “Beating Crime”; and “Calling Time on Crime”.

The government could take a look at the 1999 study done by the Montreal-based International Centre for the Prevention of Crime. In the United States, Lawrence Sherman did a meta-analysis of 600 programs. He and his team evaluated 600 programs, which had already done work in crime prevention, as to what works and what does not work.

The identification of families at risk, the early home visits, getting the kids into a preschool situation for two and one-half hours a day, enabling the parents to know what proper parenting is, dealing with substance abuse by the parents and reducing violence within the household are all absolutely crucial to changing the trajectory of a child's life.

The reason I am bringing this up in the context of this bill is that we are talking about violent crime. We are talking about homicides. We have to be able to reduce violent crime, and there are some very smart things we can do that will enable us to do that.

Simply building more jails, as seductive as it is on the surface, has been proven not to work. If it were going to work, then surely the United States would have a much safer country than ours, because they incarcerate far more people and have much tougher penalties, including the death penalty.

If that course were going to work, surely that society would be safer than ours. However, the reality is that it is not. There are many more people incarcerated, there is a much higher cost to the taxpayer and, from the public's perspective, people are not safer. They are actually less safe and subjected to more violence. It is a much more dangerous society than Canada's. Therefore, why do we not take a look at what works and implement the things that do?

There are other things we can do that work. One thing we should do, as I said before, is look at prenatal care, which is extremely important. We also need to deal with substance abuse. In the House, we occasionally spend time talking about marijuana. I do not support people using it. It is much stronger now than it ever was before. The THC content of marijuana runs around 36%.

However, if we look objectively at what does the most harm in our society, we will find that by any real measure it is actually alcohol. Alcohol causes many more problems in our society than marijuana ever does. This is all just a way of saying that, instead of being fixated on certain things that may be attractive at a certain level, we should look at ways to reduce substance abuse in general, whether it is marijuana, crystal meth, narcotics, alcohol or cigarettes. All are harmful and have an effect.

I can say from personal experience in emergency rooms that, for the number of people who have come in having done horrible things to other people, far and away alcohol was a mitigating factor. Whether it was a person who drove drunk and killed someone or a drunk person who beat up his or her partner, alcohol was a primary factor in all of that.

We need to try to tear away some of the myths of what we are talking about, deal with the facts and try to implement things that work. If we want to reduce substance abuse, which I know is a common goal for everybody in the House, why do we not take a look at reducing substance abuse with things that work?

The early learning head start programs work very well. They also reduce child abuse rates. Hawaii's healthy start program, which I would encourage the government to take a look at, would reduce child abuse rates by over 90%. That is absolutely staggering. The program identified families at risk, brought in mentors who were usually women who had children, engaged parents who could be at risk, worked together to teach proper parenting and proper nutrition for children and enabled children to live in a loving and caring environment, dramatically changing the trajectory of the children's lives.

We have the science to prove it. Dr. Julio Montaner, Dr. Evan Wood and others at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital have done some incredible work with neurologists from other parts of the world. In fact they can prove now that one can look at a developing child's brain and see that it is developing well if the child is subjected to a loving and caring environment, free of sexual abuse and violence, and has security. Whereas if a child is subjected to those terrible things, one can see that the neural connections in a child's brain happen slowly or do not happen adequately. As a result, the child is at a much higher risk of committing a crime later in life.

I hope this is something the government will take a look at. If it is interested in reducing crime and interventions like the early learning head start programs work, what exactly does it do in terms of crime? This is what was found. Those kinds of programs reduce maternal arrests by 69%, they reduce child abuse rates by 80% in the studies that were done to age 15 and they reduce youth crime by 66%. If there were a program that saved the taxpayer anywhere between $7 and $11 per $1 invested and reduced youth crime by 66%, surely the government would work with the provinces to implement this, because all of this entails working with the provinces.

That makes sense from a humanitarian perspective, it makes sense to reach our objectives, and it makes fiscal sense. The cost-benefit analysis has been done. The evidence is in. It requires action. The government can use a convening power and its fiscal tools to work with the provinces to be able to achieve this objective.

It staggers me, quite frankly, that the government does not do this. It would look good doing this and it would be serving the public in what it is doing. This is my way of saying that these interventions work very well.

On the issue of drug policy, if the government wants to sanction people taking illegal drugs and thinks that is going to help to make our society safer, then it is delusional. All it needs to do is look south of the border to see what has happened in terms of the Americans' war on drugs approach. In fact, a number of states have actually decided very clearly that this does not work. That is what the facts tell them. The war on drugs is a failed war. It does not work. It has never worked and it will not work. In fact, rather than thinking it does work, it actually makes society less safe. It is more costly, does more harm, increases use and makes our society less safe. These are all outcomes that we do not want to have.

What does work? We can take a look at Portugal. Portugal actually liberalized its drug laws. What did it find? It found less drug use, less cost, less harm and less violence. All of that worked very well.

I would strongly encourage the government to work with the provinces and liberalize the drug laws, because the war on drugs that we are seeing is actually a war that we see on the streets. Many of the murders that we have found in my province of British Columbia have been rooted in drug wars, organized crime gangs fighting over drug territory.

If the government wants to attack organized crime, one of the most effective ways to do that is to go after the financial underpinnings. We can take them out by going after their finances. We can go after their finances by changing the drug laws. If we change the drug laws, that is the worst news for organized crime in this country. That would be a hammer on organized crime. I strongly encourage the government, which says it wants to get tough on crime, to look at drug policy as a way to get tough on crime. If we change the drug laws, we would actually be undermining significantly organized crime gangs. We will not be increasing drug use either. Nobody wants that and it is absurd to think otherwise.

Lastly, on the police, there are a number of decisions that have come down, the McNeil decision and others, that are really harming the ability of our police to do their job. These decisions put the police on trial instead of putting the accused on trial. It makes it very difficult for our police to do their job. They do a yeoman's job across our country. Whether it is the RCMP or other police forces, they do an incredible job for us and we have a huge indebtedness to the men and women who serve us every single day.

I really implore the government to take a look at the crime prevention initiatives that work. We have more than 30 years of experience. The cost-benefit analysis is there. It will reduce crime, it will reduce harm, it will reduce violent crime, and in that we would be doing our job.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his speech. It is the first time I have had this discussion with the hon. member, who will not be running in the next election. I want to say to him that he certainly has been a great inspiration on all levels in the House, and for me as a fairly new member of Parliament back in 2004. For that I thank him.

I want to talk to him about this issue that he speaks of so passionately and has done so for as long as I have been here. On the surface, he talks about this piece of legislation and how it deals with the idea of discounts, which on the surface I do not have a problem with.

However, the member brings up many aspects of the core of the problem. One of the issues regarding drugs is that we do not put enough emphasis on harm reduction, which is something that has been debated for quite some time, through Europe especially right now and all over the world.

Harm reduction seems to be thrown aside for the sake of increasing the amount of penalty for individuals involved in crime. Perhaps the member could talk about harm reduction.

Also, over the past few years we have not seen a lot of vision when it comes to the reduction of crime before the crime actually begins, to use the vernacular. So I thank him for his intervention.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my friend for his very kind and gracious comments. He really serves his constituents well and will continue to advance the issues that are important not only to his constituents in Newfoundland and Labrador but also to Canadians from coast to coast.

The member is absolutely right in terms of harm reduction. It is unfortunate that the evidence-based harm reduction policies that work, such as the Insite program that Dr. Montaner and his team have run out of St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, or the NAOMI project, which is an acronym for the North American opiate medication initiative, are not embraced.

Essentially, the NAOMI project is a drug substitution program for narcotics. It has enabled people to actually get on with their lives, to stop taking drugs or to have their drug issues managed, which has led to a reduction in crime or a reduction in harm. It has led to people become productive members of society and get back with their families.

Rather than taking an ideological approach, as the Prime Minister has in the past on this, I would strongly encourage that he becomes educated about this. There is great work that has been done in Canada. Communities from coast to coast need to have access to those programs.

Rather than impeding access to those programs, I hope the Prime Minister and the government will become facilitators to those programs for the communities that would like them.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague's very passionate and well-reasoned statements on liberalizing drug policy in this country.

I am left somewhat puzzled, though, because that is absolutely not what is under debate at the moment. We are discussing Bill C-48, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.

“Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act” is the name of the act and the issue under debate right now is whether we should give judges in this country discretion to provide sentences for multiple murders that are consecutive, not concurrent. I did not hear my friend address any comments to that.

I wonder what the member's position is on the matter under debate. Does he think judges in this country should have the discretion to give consecutive sentences for multiple murders or not?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
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10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, the rationale for my intervention is really to take advantage of this opportunity to talk about how to not have people committing murders in the first place and how to not have victims of violent crime.

The intervention that I have put forward was really a plea to the government. I hope members from all parties will be able to adopt those interventions that have been, and are, useful in terms of preventing the horrible victimization that occurs in our society.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for talking a little bit about the root causes of crime, because if the government is going to get tough on crime, it has to understand why it happens.

The member also spoke about fetal alcohol syndrome, which is now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder because it has broadened. Back in 1997, the Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba did a study and a review of their prison systems and the inmates there. They found, startlingly, that 50% of the inmates in their prisons suffered from mental health disorders related to alcohol taken by a mother during pregnancy. That was also confirmed by Anne McLellan, our federal minister of justice at the time.

I would ask the member to elaborate just a little bit further on the need to be tough on crime, but to understand that there are crimes in which rehabilitation of the perpetrator is not possible and that our institutions are failing people who have mental health disorders.

Rehabilitation for people with mental health disorders is learning how to cope with their problem. Institutionalization and assistance, not rehabilitation in a jail, is appropriate.

Would the member agree that the argument also shows why building more jails is not actually necessary, that there is enough room in our jails for the real criminals, and that what we have to do is make sure that in our jails there are not people who should not be in those institutions?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to honour my colleague for all his tireless work on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. He has been a champion to deal with this challenge since he was elected in 1993. I honour and thank him for his service in tirelessly bringing up this issue.

He is absolutely correct, and as I mentioned before, in Nunavut, one quarter of all babies are born with FASD. On the streets of Victoria, for example, there are about 1,450 people on the street. Two-thirds of those people have what we call dual diagnosis, which means that they have a psychiatric problem and they have a substance abuse problem. These conditions often go hand in hand. One sometimes occurs first, but they can shift back and forth. The tragedy of it is that we are not dealing with this properly.

People who commit violent crimes must be in jail to protect society, there is no question about that. We support that, but what we are trying to do is prevent that from ever happening. The member is absolutely right that, for too many people, the institutions are not available. There are some people who simply cannot take care of themselves. Rather than suggesting that they just go out in the community where there are not the community services for them, enable them to have an institution where they can live in peace and security and get the care they require because they cannot live on their own and there are not the resources, frankly, to be able to provide them to live on their own. What happens is that they fall through the cracks and they wind up on the street and doing a number of things that they should not do or should not feel compelled to do.

Why not be smart about it and address the issues of psychiatric challenges and substance abuse in an intelligent, fact-based way and in a medical way? These are medical problems, not judicial problems.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the previous speaker. I have a difficult question for him. In his opinion, what is the Minister of Justice trying to accomplish by introducing such a bill?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
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10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my friend for his question.

It is unfortunate that a significant bulk of the government's bills have been justice bills to make the Conservatives look “tough on crime” to the general public because it is politically advantageous. The tragedy is that in the process of so-called looking tough on crime, it is not effective on crime. It is actually making the country less secure and harming the public. The irony is that while it can be portrayed from the government's perspective that it is introducing bills that are going to keep people safer because it is tough on crime, the reality is that it does not happen. These bills are going to make Canadians less safe and less secure, and that is the tragedy of it.