House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

(Motion, as amended, agreed to)

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 5:30.

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Does the Chief Government Whip have unanimous support to see the clock at 5:30?

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 5:30, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2011 / 5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

moved that Bill C-309, An Act to amend the Criminal code (concealment of identity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open debate today on my private member's Bill C-309, the preventing persons from concealing their identity during riots and unlawful assemblies act.

This legislation would add new penalties for wearing a disguise to those sections of the Criminal Code that deal with individuals who participate in a riot or an unlawful assembly. This bill is a measured response to a problem that law enforcement officials have grappled with for years, and the need for which has been further highlighted by recent events in the cities of Toronto and Vancouver.

At the G20 meetings in Toronto, and again in Vancouver after game seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs in June, law-abiding citizens were assaulted; businesses were broken into, vandalized and looted of their merchandise; and public property owned by taxpayers, such as police cars, was torched and destroyed. These violent events had a theme in common that was noted by law enforcement officers who were working to protect public safety at the time. They noted the prevalence of people who wore masks or facial coverings to conceal their identities during the commission of criminal acts.

According to police, some of the perpetrators deliberately masked up prior to the gatherings becoming violent, while others mingled in the crowd and covered their faces in order to carry out criminal acts of opportunity. These offenders vandalized property and assaulted police officers and innocent bystanders. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Who here can forget the images from Vancouver of looters with their shirts, jackets or hockey jerseys yanked up over their face while streaming through broken store windows with heaps of stolen merchandise, or thugs jumping into the crowds to kick or hit an innocent bystander in the thick of the rioting?

These images tell a very revealing story. They tell us that criminals are well aware in this age of social media and all-pervasive cellphone cameras that they run a very high risk of their behaviour being recorded and they had better hide their identity if they want to avoid being caught and brought to justice for their actions. More and more of them are doing exactly that. In too many cases, these offenders escape identification by covering or obscuring their face at the time of the offence. This is an unacceptable state of affairs. No one should be able to commit violent and destructive crimes against persons and property with impunity under a cloak of anonymity, yet that is exactly what we have seen happen in these cases.

Police have long advised that their inability to pre-emptively deal with individuals who were concealing their identities in the middle of such explosive situations is hindering their ability to maintain control and to protect the public. Currently, there is no authority for police to pre-emptively stop people from concealing their identity in a riot. They must observe an offence before they can move to stop it, even by a masked individual and even in a riot. Their powers in these dangerous situations are reactive rather than proactive. Our Criminal Code does provide a penalty for disguise with intent in subsection 351(2).

When police in Vancouver recently recommended charges of participating in a riot against some of the suspected rioters there, they did in fact propose charges under that section in a very small number of cases, but why only in a small number of cases? In only a small number of cases where people had their faces concealed were police able to verify the suspect's identity afterwards.

The charge of disguise with intent can be a challenging one to apply, and since it is applied in the aftermath of an incident, it is not altogether helpful in actually controlling riot situations as they occur.

A police officer trying to maintain control in the midst of a riot has little time or means to meet the high level of intent needed to satisfy subsection 351(2). They are too busy defending life and limb, their own and those of the citizens they were sworn to protect. Yet police repeatedly tell us that it is these very people, those who disguise themselves and mask their faces, that are most often the instigators and the ringleaders of such trouble.

What if there were a measure designed to strip away anonymity from criminals during such disturbances? What if the very act of wearing a disguise in a riot became in and of itself an offence? What if police had the means to order those who were concealing their identities in a riot to remove their disguises or risk detainment or arrest? That would change the stakes dramatically.

People would then have a very clear choice in front of them. They could choose to remove their disguise, show their face and be identified and held accountable for their criminal actions, or they could choose not to and risk arrest for the offence of wearing a mask in a riot. Either way, public safety would be improved.

It would improve public safety by providing a new deterrent for people to wear disguises in the first place. If people think twice about concealing themselves, then surely the prospect of committing a crime without the benefit of anonymity would give them even greater pause. This would allow us to better identify people who engage in criminal riotous behaviour and it would improve the police's ability to deal with people who are wearing disguises at the time of an incident, thereby preventing them from rioting at all.

This bill is a good idea, but it is not necessarily a new idea. Other democratic governments, such as those in the United Kingdom, France and the State of New York, have developed legislation that would either limit or prohibit the wearing of disguises, masks or facial coverings. For example, in 2001, the United Kingdom passed the anti-terrorism crime and security act, which includes sections regarding the use of masks and disguises.

It is only when a peaceful protest or assembly turns into a riot or an unlawful assembly that the provisions of the bill would come into force.

When does a peaceful assembly become a riot or an unlawful assembly? The Criminal Code tells us when. It tells us that an unlawful assembly has occurred when:

--three or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner or so conduct themselves when they are assembled as to cause persons in the neighbourhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that they

(a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or

(b) will,by that assembly needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.

When do we know that police are dealing with a riot situation? Again, the Criminal Code, in section 64, tells us a riot is occurring when “an unlawful assembly has begun to disturb the peace tumultuously”.

We see in law that an unlawful assembly evolves into a riot when there is tumultuous conduct by participants. Typically this involves acts of violence or threatened violence, or destruction of property.

Both definitions provide us with clear indicators of when a peaceful assembly has ceased to be such and when police are now intervening in an illegal act. It is therefore no infringement on charter rights to peaceful assembly for police to intervene when such an assembly has degraded into either an unlawful assembly or a riot.

It is in those same situations when police are working to restore order that the provisions of Bill C-309 would make it necessary for any masks or disguises worn by participants to be taken off immediately.

Riots and unlawful assemblies already carry Criminal Code penalties. Bill C-309 would simply amend already existing sections of the code to make it an added offence to wear a mask or other disguise to conceal one's identity during these illegal acts.

Let us be clear. Anyone who is wearing a mask or a disguise to conceal his or her face in the midst of a riot is exhibiting aggravating behaviour. Law-abiding citizens who get caught up in a riot will naturally be seeking to clear the area on police orders. It is hard to imagine that others who ignore police instructions to depart the area and who, in addition, continue to linger in the vicinity while wearing a disguise are seized by any innocent motives or good intentions in those kind of circumstances.

This bill would not remove police discretion. Police who are trying to restore order and protect safety in a riot situation are not likely to be interested in pursuing anyone who is already obeying orders to leave the area. In fact, someone fleeing the scene of a riot on police orders may in a real sense be seen as no longer participating in a riot as defined by the code.

It is not the people leaving the scene of trouble who have the police's attention. It is the loitering, masked troublemakers who concern the police. Someone with his or her shirt up to block out tear gas for example is not likely to concern riot control police if that individual is actively running away from the scene. However, individuals who come prepared with gas masks or bandanas and are wearing them in the trouble spot in defiance of police directions to move on is another story.

There is evidence that at these riots many of the people wearing masks and facial coverings were part of organized groups with premeditated intent on confronting the police and causing mayhem. In addition to targeting the criminals of opportunity that we see at riots, this law also targets anarchists, those individuals who come to protest with the premeditated intent to use the assembly as a cover for their criminal behaviour.

Anarchist groups are increasingly employing the tactic of concealing their identity by wearing disguises, masks, or other facial coverings for the purpose of committing unlawful acts in a riot situation. Police have seen it time and again, individuals with their faces concealed mixing into a group and then instigating riotous behaviour, such as throwing objects at police, tossing marbles under the legs of police horses to trip them up, or covering up their faces before smashing windows, setting fires, stealing, assaulting people or flipping over vehicles. These individuals then remove their facial coverings and slip away in the confusion, some never to be apprehended. It is vexing for police and dangerous for the public to see such individuals escape the consequences of their actions.

I would argue that their clean getaways in fact embolden them to redouble their efforts and engage in criminality again, but Bill C-309 presents a new tool for police to deal with them. These people would now risk arrest for wearing their masks in a riot. Police would no longer have to wait for them to start assaulting people and destroying property before they could move against them.

Police know they need this ability to act pre-emptively against disguised individuals in riot situations. Police chiefs in a number of Canada's major cities, including Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, have all told me they support my bill.

Vancouver Chief Constable Jim Chu had this specifically to say about my bill:

The Vancouver Police Department is pleased to support this bill. When we see protestors in a crowd donning masks and hoods we know there is a very good chance that violence will soon follow.

In a resolution that he drafted this year for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Victoria Chief Constable Jamie Graham urged the government to take aim at this particular problem. His resolution had this to say about masked individuals: “Wearing facial covering allows an offender to blend in and mix with a larger lawful group of peaceful individuals without being identified. There an offender may commit unlawful acts under disguise then remove their masks or facial coverings and blend in with peaceful protestors.” It goes on to say: “Wearing a disguise, masks or other facial coverings allows a person to conceal their identity whose intent it is to commit an unlawful act prior to, during or immediately after a lawful assembly or protest.”

Police know through hard experience that it is often the organized ring leaders or instigators of such trouble who come prepared with materials to conceal their identities, or it is people who decide in the thick of things to assault others or destroy property who will attempt to conceal their identities, as we saw in Vancouver. Whoever they are, organized or not, no one in Canada should be able to hide in plain sight while committing crimes.

I have heard some suggest that if this bill passes, it may target individuals who wear facial coverings for religious or cultural reasons, but that view fails to take into account the exemption in this bill for lawful excuse. My bill states:

Every person who commits an offence...while wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity without lawful excuse is guilty of an indictable offence--

What are examples of a lawful excuse? Someone who legitimately wears cultural or religious dress that obscures the face, or bandages for legitimate medical purposes, for example, might fall under the exemption. Someone who could demonstrate a lawful excuse that is legitimate and provable for wearing a face covering would not face the penalties of Bill C-309, although the person would still face the existing penalties for participating in a riot.

I will close by urging my colleagues in the House to support Bill C-309. I am convinced that no one in the chamber of any political persuasion wants to see repeats of the destruction and violence that took place in Vancouver and Toronto. This bill has the potential to deter and de-escalate such unfortunate events in the future to protect persons and property. I sincerely hope that all members will join me in moving the bill forward.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's bill. It raises some interesting questions. Would the lawful excuse exemption apply to police officers acting as agents provocateurs or attempts to become part of the riot, as has been experienced in Quebec?

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, this legislation is designed specifically for people who are participating in riots. If police officers are trying to control the situation, they are obviously not participants in the riot. They are there to try to stop the riot.

Second, lawful excuse applies. Anyone who has lawful excuse to be wearing a facial covering, whatever the reason might be, would certainly not be touched under this legislation.

This is intended for the people who are trying to cause harm to other individuals and to property, while disguising themselves to commit those crimes with impugnity. This is intended to cover that.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, my concern with the legislation also relates to the wide breadth given to the phrase “lawful excuse” by the hon. member and the fact that this bill to amend the Criminal Code has been brought forward as a private member's bill.

It strikes me that with the government's preoccupation with law and order and the fact that there have been substantial amendments to criminal legislation already, the breadth of the term “lawful excuse”, which causes me great concern from a charter perspective, would be subject to much further and better scrutiny from the perspective of whether there would be a charter violation if this had come in as a piece of government legislation. There would also be the opportunity for much more debate.

On this side we have very serious concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation and we do not share the narrow reading that he does with respect to the “lawful excuse”. I would invite his comments on that.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, first, I have crafted the legislation to try to deal with a problem that we have in the country, one that has been identified to me many times by police chiefs and officers who have tried to control these kinds of situations.

The member also mentions that our government has brought forward a number of pieces of legislation to deal with what we see as some of the issues in the Criminal Code, which were left by the previous Liberal government, the party of which he is a member. It chose to ignore these situations and leave them unfixed for many years.

We are attempting to right some of the wrongs that were left by the previous government of which he is a member of that party. I am proud of those pieces of legislation that our government has brought forward.

However, this is legislation that I have designed in response to a specific problem that we see lacking in the Criminal Code. He mentions debate, and I certainly welcome all debate that is possible in the House. At committee level, I would be open to any suggestions I hear from members.

This legislation is designed to specifically fix a problem that police officers have identified to me in terms of trying to control these situations from getting out of hand.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to applaud the member for Wild Rose for Bill C-309, for his interest in public safety and for responding to concerns raised by police officers and citizens about providing more tools where there is a need and a gap in the Criminal Code to ensure that public safety is first and foremost the goal of our government and the goal of Canadians.

I note his amendment to the Criminal Code proposes a term of five years imprisonment for offenders. However, I also know that section 351(2) of the code also has an offence for disguise with intent and it proposes a term of imprisonment not to exceed 10 years.

Has the member for Wild Rose given any consideration to amending his bill to harmonize his penalties with what is in the Criminal Code today?

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, this has been previously raised by other members of the House as well.

I did have to have some consideration of what the penalties would be, looking at various other offences in the Criminal Code and trying to find a way to make it seem a reasonable penalty.

In this case, with the other section 351 being 10 years, it does seem like a very reasonable amendment. It is something that I am definitely considering. I am definitely going to raise that at the committee level. I look forward to the conversation I will have at the committee level. This may be an amendment that we make to the bill.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, when examining the provisions of a bill, I think parliamentarians have a duty to ask themselves a simple question: will this bill improve our society? Today we are looking at Bill C-309, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (concealment of identity). I have no doubt that the author of this bill was motivated by a desire to improve public safety. That seems to be the answer the government automatically gives these days. Thus, members really need to ask themselves if this bill is an effective way to improve public safety.

Let us be clear: like all parties, the NDP condemns any vandalism and criminal behaviour at any assembly. Furthermore, we fully agree that any crime committed by someone wearing a mask deserves a tougher sentence. The NDP fully supports the sections of the Criminal Code that protect the public against seditious behaviour, vandalism and the masked individuals who commit these acts. What worries me, however, is the direction in which bills like this on public safety are taking us. I imagine this bill was drafted in response to the problem of crimes committed anonymously by people wearing masks during unlawful assemblies or riots.

No one is denying the troubling images that came out of the recent riots in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. In fact, I have a great deal of empathy for all the small businesses and shops that were damaged during these demonstrations. It is extremely sad, and I hope they will be compensated for this. In some cases, some of the offenders did indeed wear masks; I am aware of that. If this bill truly is a response to those events, then it is the responsibility of this House to determine whether it is a suitable and adequate response. Let us look at the content of this bill.

It proposes two very simple changes to the Criminal Code. Clause 2 of the bill calls for a change to section 65 of the Criminal Code making it a criminal offence to wear a mask or any other disguise when participating in a riot. The bill also proposes amending section 66 of the Criminal Code, which is essentially the same thing, but in the context of an unlawful assembly.

I want to come back to my original question: will this legislation improve our society? Changing our society for the better means recognizing a problem and being willing to solve it. As I was saying before, the NDP fully supports subsection 351(2) of the Criminal Code, which makes it an offence to cover one's face in the commission of a crime. The courts have recognized that wearing a mask during the commission of a crime can be considered an aggravating factor during sentencing. There are existing measures for handing down tougher sentences for an act committed by a criminal who wears a mask.

How will this bill help Canadians? Is the purpose of Bill C-309 to make it illegal to take part in a riot or unlawful assembly? In that case, Canadians are already protected by the Criminal Code. If the purpose of the bill is to introduce punitive measures against someone who commits a crime, such as vandalism, while taking part in a riot or unlawful assembly, Canadians are already protected by the Criminal Code, as I explained previously. If the purpose is to increase sentences for individuals who commit crimes while concealing their identity, once again, Canadians are protected by court decisions.

Under the Criminal Code, taking part in a riot or unlawful assembly and committing vandalism or other crimes during an unlawful assembly are already illegal, and concealing one's identity while committing a crime during an unlawful assembly or riot is considered to be an aggravating factor. Therefore, I question the need for this bill. I believe that it is basically redundant. The main issues of public safety that are the basis for this bill are already covered by the Criminal Code. This bill's only new contribution is to make it an offence to conceal one's identity while taking part in a riot or unlawful assembly.

According to this bill, an individual could be detained, arrested, indicted and sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison simply for being a masked spectator in the area of an unlawful assembly.

In June 2010, during the G20 in Toronto, Canadians witnessed how a small riot led to police crackdowns. The result: thousands of innocent people were arrested and detained. Approximately 1,500 Canadians were arrested or detained as a result of a riot involving fewer than 20 people. The authorities subjectively considered the whole demonstration as an unlawful assembly and took away the civil liberties of 1,500 innocent demonstrators, journalists and spectators. We must remember these events when we are considering a bill such as this one.

The limitations imposed on civil liberties to ensure public safety must be the least restrictive possible. I think that all the hon. members would agree with me on this. Otherwise, there is no limit to the restrictions that can be imposed on fundamental freedoms.

I would also like to point out that this bill takes away an individual's right to demonstrate anonymously. An individual is not necessarily going to commit a crime just because he or she is wearing a mask at a riot. It is reasonable to think that the person just wants to remain anonymous and protect his or her identity.

In the context of this bill, we must recognize the risk of political profiling of people exercising their civil liberties. Too often, 99% of protestors are peaceful, while 1% choose to vandalize. More often than not, this 1% is condemned by the vast majority of the peaceful protestors. As we saw in Toronto in June 2010, the peaceful protestors and spectators can be close to non-peaceful protestors. But this bill could lead to the arrest of innocent protestors who wear masks because of their geographic proximity to non-peaceful protestors.

It bears repeating that criminals who conceal their identity are already punished more severely in this country. I also want to point out that this bill would give judges the discretionary power under the Criminal Code to consider an offence committed while wearing a mask as an aggravating factor. Some people may consider that to be a good thing. However, a 2005 judgment by the Provincial Court of Alberta, R. v. Potter, already provides that protection.

I would like to thank the member for introducing this bill in the House. I understand the source of his concerns. However, in its current form, this bill is redundant and could have serious consequences for civil liberties in this country. I encourage members in this House to carefully examine the implications of this bill and to ask themselves whether it is worth jeopardizing our civil liberties. I am leaving it up to the House to decide on an appropriate course of action.

Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-309, but I want to begin by confronting the Conservatives on their obsession with crime. We have before us a bill ostensibly produced by the folks in the Prime Minister's Office or the Conservative House leader's office. I think we need to be clear about this. Their so-called crime agenda is in full swing, predicated on ideology and not evidence. They do not believe in evidence or facts.

The Conservatives want to continue creating fear among Canadians and to perpetuate the idea that there is rampant crime on the streets, that there are riots everywhere, that the government, in response, must be brave and take decisive action to breathe life into that particular bogeyman. On the rare occasion that Conservatives might actually propose something that appears worthy of some consideration, they wonder why Canadians are suspicious.

The Conservatives' record of ignoring evidence and perpetuating fear is well-known. The fear agenda gives me rise to questions about their sincerity. One only has to look at Bill C-10, safe streets and communities act. As far as I am concerned, it should be called “keeping the myth of out of control crime alive so we can fundraise to our right-wing base act”.

For the Conservatives, repeating a myth often enough convinces them that it must be true. It is a classic right-wing Republican tactic; that is to say, the Conservatives operate not unlike a pack of hyenas. They see an opportunity to feast on the fears of Canadians, fears which are often of their own creation, and then they pounce. As part of the bullying tactics, they are always ready to attack anyone who disagrees with them, then issue a fundraising letter containing more myths. This behaviour, now firmly rooted in their political DNA, is a again not unlike the hyena, opportunistic and completely natural. Then they call it tough on crime. I call it tough on facts and evidence.

When I meet people around the country and in my riding, they are not running up to me and talking about crime or crime rates. They are more concerned about jobs and the economy. They are concerned that my riding of Charlottetown is losing 500 jobs as a result of cuts to Veterans Affairs. They are worried about the cuts to Service Canada and the closure of EI processing centres.

They do not understand why the federal government is the only level of government that will not participate in the funding to clean up a sewage problem in the Charlottetown harbour. They do not understand why the Conservatives have cancelled a cable that would ensure energy security to Prince Edward Island.

Here we are with another crime bill. Why did the member not introduce a bill to reduce poverty in Canada, a bill to help the poor, and to bring them in from the margins of poverty? Why did he not do that?

It is as if the Conservatives lie awake at night dreaming about ways to put more and more people in prison. It is an obsession rooted not in science or evidence, or even reason. It is irrational.

I want to assure the member that none of us on this side will stand by while Conservatives proffer myths or slogans. None of us on this side will tolerate the idea that because we disagree with the Conservatives on matters related to crime, that somehow we do not care or we are soft on crime. It is a falsehood and the members opposite know it. To disagree with the government is not a crime, at least not yet, but who knows?

With respect to the bill, we all witnessed what happened in Vancouver last year during the Stanley Cup. We know that the behaviour of far too many people was deplorable and criminal. None of us who sat around watching the hockey game that night and the news stories thereafter were thinking, gee, we wish there were more destruction and violence. None of us said, “Gee, I hope that guy who just set fire to the car gets away with it”. Listening to the Conservatives though, one would think that members from this side were there and involved.

I wonder what the member thinks about his own government's behaviour with respect to the G20 in Toronto. What does he think about what occurred, when at the G20 peaceful protesters, yes, peaceful protesters, were summarily denied their constitutional and charter rights to freely assemble?

What does he think, when protesters, acting peacefully, not violently, were kettled, rounded up and detained in violation of their charter rights? Why is the member not proposing a bill about protecting the rights of legitimate protesters?

What is his position on those well-documented violations of constitutional rights? Does he believe that citizens have a right to peaceful protest? Why is it that he and his government have refused thus far a public inquiry into the behaviour of the police and his own government with respect to the serious and rampant violation of constitutional rights at the G20?

The right of Canadians to assemble, and to do so peacefully, is a right protected by the charter, a document that many on the other side deep down really do detest. Rioting is already a crime, as the member knows.

The bill before us is deliberately framed in a way that if anyone were to disagree or to suggest amendments, he or she would automatically be designated as a traitor to a Conservative crime cause. Conservatives call that debate?

No one wants to support any Canadian engaging in activity that destroys property, encourages violence and rioting. None of us wish to support the deliberate concealment of someone while engaging in a riot. However, if this government were truly serious about this issue, this proposal would be on the government agenda. If it were brought in by government, it would have been open to have been tested, as required by statute by the Department of Justice, to ensure that it was constitutional.

This is a government bill in disguise. The suggestion that a backbench MP, in this environment, in the controlled and contrived Conservative government, such as the one we have now, would produce a bill without the consent of the PMO and its House leader's office is quite frankly a stretch.

If the government were serious about amending the Criminal Code to deal with aggravating circumstances, such as those contemplated in this private member's bill, it should have introduced a government bill. At least that would have allowed for greater and wider debate. The Conservatives are not interested in debate, nor facts, nor evidence. We see a sad example happening right now in the justice committee.

We will review Bill C-309, insist that it receive a thorough analysis, and if necessary, propose amendments. Until we are convinced that the bill meets the test of the charter, we will not and cannot support it.

Members should listen to this because what I am about to say will probably send shivers up the spines of the Conservatives. If we can be convinced by evidence and facts, and the testimony of experts that this bill is constitutional, then let the debate begin.