House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-10.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to conclude my remarks because this is a very important bill for Canadians, who have expressed their desire to have us pass this into law as soon as possible.

I want to address something that I heard recently with relation to complaints from some quarters, in fact the opposition primarily, that there has not been sufficient time to study Bill C-10 in its entirety. If we look at the history and examination of the charges as they relate to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, we will see how very wrong that is. As I briefly outlined a minute ago, the proposed reforms to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that are contained in part 4 of Bill C-10, being made after consultations with a broad range of stakeholders and members of the public, are in response to key court decisions, such as the Nunn commission of inquiry, an extensive parliamentary study, and indeed, input from provincial and territorial partners.

First, most of us will know that the former Bill C-4 was extensively studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights prior to the dissolution of the previous Parliament. The committee actually held 16 meetings on that bill and heard from over 60 witnesses. I do not know how anyone in this place or elsewhere can say it was not properly consulted.

Second, prior to introducing former Bill C-4 in March 2010, the Minister of Justice undertook a comprehensive review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. In February 2008, the Minister of Justice launched that review with a meeting he held with provincial and territorial attorneys general who, I would suggest, know much more than the opposition does in relation to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They discussed the scope of the review to encourage provincial and territorial ministers to identify the issues that they had, that they had heard from their Crown prosecutors and others relating to the youth justice system, and that they considered the most important. That is very important.

Finally, in May 2008, the Minister of Justice, as I said previously, undertook a series of cross-country round tables usually co-chaired by provincial and territorial ministers in order to hear from youth justice professionals, front line youth justice stakeholders and others around this country about areas of concern and possible improvements regarding the provisions and principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

To say it was not properly consulted and that we did not spend enough time is simply ludicrous. We have heard from Canadians and they have clearly outlined what they wanted us to do. We have consulted with stakeholders, including the provinces, members of the government and the public and, most importantly, victims. We are listening to victims.

The Nunn commission itself convened on June 29, 2005 and heard from 47 witnesses, with over 31 days of testimony. We are listening to Canadians, reflecting the society that they want, and moving forward on keeping all Canadians safe.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member said that victims groups support Bill C-10. But I have a letter from the West Island CALACS that says that “the Regroupement québécois des CALACS supports the preventive approach, rather than repressive measures that have not yet been proven to be effective.”

Could the member tell me whether it is because he has not listened enough to Canadians and groups, or is it because he does not listen to people who do not share his opinion?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's concern with this and I agree that prevention is very important. That is why we are going to ensure that people who commit serious crimes actually do time, that they are kept in jail where they cannot be sexual predators of minors, where they will not be able to do the things they were doing because the parole system in this country was not working properly.

We are going to ensure that Canadians and victims are listened to, and indeed, that the people who commit crimes, especially violent sexual offences, actually do the time and stay in jail where they will have an opportunity to be rehabilitated but will not have a chance to reoffend.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have this question for the member. Will he not recognize and acknowledge that it is only the Conservative government here in Canada that seems to take this approach that the best way to prevent crime from happening is to build mega jails? It is something which has not worked in the United States.

In fact, what we see now in the United States is an attempt to get more people back into the communities. The best way to prevent crimes from happening is to put in place programs that will ensure that there are alternatives for youth to participate outside of gangs and things of that nature.

I wonder why the government does not recognize the value of crime prevention. Preventing crimes from taking place in the first place, I would ultimately argue, is indeed Canadians' greatest priority, more so than keeping people in jails for extended periods of time where it is not justified.

We understand and appreciate that at times there is a need to keep people in jail. However, quite often we would be better served by having more programs that would facilitate individuals becoming full participants in society in a positive way.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know that some people have actually expressed that, as the member says, it is not justified. However, that is a small minority of people. It is criminals and the Liberal Party of Canada.

I do not agree with that. I think, frankly, people who commit serious crimes should do serious time because they have taken away something from people. They have violated society as a whole and public policy.

There is no question in my mind that a small minority of criminals get caught, but when they are caught, most of the punishments are, frankly, quite laughable. I have had an opportunity to see it first-hand.

We are not going to take the laughable position of the Liberal Party of Canada, or the laughable position of criminals for that matter.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I take great offence to the fact that the member opposite lumped us in with criminals and not worrying about the subject. We worry about it.

I am a former solicitor general. However, we look at facts when we are trying to rehabilitate people. Just throwing people in jail does not make them better. Just penalizing them does not make them better. They need programs to be rehabilitated.

The member should not lump Liberals in with criminals in his statement. It is wrong and he should apologize.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I too take offence that the member would take the position of criminals instead of law-abiding citizens and the Conservative Party of Canada that wants to protect Canadians and society as a whole.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will take a look at what was said. I did not hear what the exact wording was, but there have been rulings before about members implicating other members being supportive of criminals or criminal actions. I will take a look and come back to the House.

There is enough time for a very brief question and comment.

The hon. member for Saanich--Gulf Islands.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Fort McMurray--Athabasca has made reference, as many Conservative members have, to the report of Justice Merlin Nunn of Nova Scotia. Is he not aware that Merlin Nunn spoke to the press in Nova Scotia and said he was troubled by the fact that this bill moves away from the principle that jails should be the place of last resort for young offenders? He was also troubled by provisions that would allow teenagers as young as 14 being tried as adults.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my friend's intervention. The Nunn commission actually called on 47 witnesses over 31 days of testimony. I agree with the member, we do want to prevent crimes, and that is exactly what we are going to do with this legislation. We are going to ensure we send a clear message to people who would commit crimes to let them know that if they are going to commit crimes, they are going to do serious time.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today in opposition to Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill.

As I stated in a September speech in this House, I do not stand in opposition to every part of the bill. Indeed, some parts of Bill C-10 are worthwhile.

As a father, I have no objection to protecting children against pedophiles and sexual predators, of course not, even though the Conservative government would have people believe otherwise. That is the rub with Bill C-10 which throws so many pieces of legislation, nine bills, aboard the one bus, aboard the one omnibus bill.

I may agree with coming down hard on pedophiles, but I do not agree with filling prisons with people who probably should not be there, like the student who gets caught with six marijuana plants. What will throwing that student in jail do for him or her, or for society in general besides costing us a fortune in new human cages? My answer is nothing. It will do absolutely nothing.

Steve Sullivan, an advocate for victims of crime for almost two decades, wrote a piece earlier this month for the National Post. A particular quote stuck with me. He wrote:

Few of us lose sleep over child-sex offenders spending more time in prison. But some of the reforms will toughen the sentences for low-risk offenders, with low rates of recidivism. They won’t make children safer, but will cost five times more than what is being invested in Child Advocacy Centres that support abused children.

Bill C-10 is also known as the safe streets and communities act, but mandatory minimum sentences are not so much tough on crime as tough on Canadians suffering from mental illness, addictions and poverty. In fact, poverty will be punished even more than it is now. The bill targets youth for harsher punishments and will put more aboriginal people in prison.

One of the pillars of the omnibus crime bill is mandatory minimum sentences. The Conservative omnibus bill will dramatically expand mandatory minimum sentences, limiting judicial discretion to levels unseen before.

Experts say taking away discretion from judges clogs up the judicial system. That is not all that it will clog up. The provinces are particularly rebelling against this new crime bill. They charge it will clog up the prison system. The provinces say it will put increasing pressure on a prison system that is practically busting at the seams.

Experts say the omnibus crime bill will increase the country's prison population by untold thousands. As for the cost of housing that many more inmates, estimates range up to $5 billion a year. That is more than double the current expenditures for the corrections system alone. And that is a conservative estimate, not a Conservative government estimate. The Conservative government has not put a price on the omnibus crime bill, which makes no sense.

Yesterday, I stood in this House and debated the bill to kill the Canadian Wheat Board, which ended up passing even though the Conservative government failed to carry out a cost benefit analysis. How is that good governance, good fiscal governance, in these scary unpredictable times? I do not get it. Canadians do not get it.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has warned the Conservative government that provinces across the country will not pick up the tab for any new costs associated with the omnibus crime bill. Quebec has essentially said the same thing.

In my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the main prison is Her Majesty's Penitentiary in my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl. Her Majesty's Penitentiary dates back to Victorian times. The original stone building first opened in 1859. The pen is an aging fortress that has been called an appalling throwback to 19th century justice, which sounds like Bill C-10.

Felix Collins, the Progressive Conservative justice minister for Newfoundland and Labrador, has had this to say about the omnibus crime bill:

Most groups, most experts and most witnesses who have given presentations on this bill would advocate that the federal government is proceeding in the wrong direction, and that this procedure has been tried in other areas before and has proven to be a failure...Incarcerating more people is not the answer.

That quote pretty well sums it up. When Felix Collins, Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister, speaks about the procedure being tried in other jurisdictions and failing in other jurisdictions, he is probably talking about Texas. Conservative Texas has warned us not to follow a failed fill-in-the-prison approach to justice.

The Canadian Bar Association, representing 37,000 Canadian legal professionals, has said the bill would, ”move Canada along a road that has failed in other countries, at a great expense”.

The Vancouver Sun ran a story yesterday with the headline, “Conservative crime bill is a costly mistake for Canada”. The story reads:

When Canada has some of the safest streets and communities in the world and a declining crime rate, why is [the] Prime Minister...pushing his omnibus crime bill through in such a machiavellian way? Many jurisdictions, including Texas and California, have warned this crime agenda not only doesn't work, but it doesn't make economic sense. Costing roughly $100,000 per year to incarcerate a person, mandatory sentences will raise taxes, increase debt, or force us to cut spending on essential programs like health and education. Bill C-10 arrogantly ignores proven facts from decades of research and experience.

Again, that about sums it up.

This is a quote I received from a constituent:

Who is helped by having a student, a future doctor or engineer, thrown in jail for a year and a half because they decided to make some hash for their own personal use? In what universe does that make sense? Stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and textbooks.

The line that sticks is, “Stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and textbooks”.

If the omnibus crime bill goes through, provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador will have less money to spend on health and education, let alone rehabilitation and preventative programs.

I will quote from an editorial in the St. John's edition of The Telegram, the daily newspaper where I come from. It states:

The provinces have been raising two kinds of concerns: one is that tough-on-crime laws don’t actually achieve their stated ends, because rehabilitation actually decreases crime rates in a way that longer incarceration does not. The second concern is far more pragmatic: while the federal government is making laws that extend prison terms, it doesn’t seem to be in any rush to help with the additional anticipated provincial costs connected to longer jail sentences and increased court time (increased court time, because it will be less attractive for criminals to plead guilty at early stages in a prosecution).

Who will say they are guilty if they know that “mandatory minimum” means they will definitely be going to prison?

Bill C-10 will not make Canada a better place to live. It will change Canada. It will change how we see ourselves as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Canadians and how we are seen on the world stage.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member and I am not certain whether he is ill-informed or needs to do some more research.

Earlier we heard the member for Oxford talk about his committee travelling to different institutions across the country and how there was a robust offering of different programs for those inmates who were willing to reform and to be contributing citizens.

I mentioned earlier a number of programs that are outside of the bill through HRSDC's skill links program through the National Crime Prevention Centre. These programs keep youth away from crime. They help them stay away from gangs, et cetera. Yet all of this seems to be outside the purview of the opposition when it addresses these issues in the bill.

The real thing I want to question the member on is this. He talked about minimum sentences. Is he aware that a prisoner only has to serve one-third of his or her sentence before being eligible for parole and after two-thirds, the individual has to be released unless the National Parole Board says he or she has to be confined? Is he aware that the five year minimum could be quite possibly only twenty months when applying for parole?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member's question was in two parts. I will not have time to answer both parts so I will answer the first part.

The member mentioned the committee that travelled to Oxford. My recommendation is that a Conservative committee should travel to Newfoundland and Labrador. I quoted from the Newfoundland and Labrador justice minister and I repeated it a second time. I am not sure if the hon. member actually listened, so I will read it a third time and maybe a bit slower. He said:

Most groups, most experts and most witnesses who have given presentations on this bill would advocate that the federal government is proceeding in the wrong direction, and that this procedure has been tried in other areas before and has proven to be a failure...Incarcerating more people is not the answer.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, would the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl like to comment on the fact that one of the aspects of the bill is to remove the possibility of a pardon from everybody? It does that by getting rid of the word “pardon” and calls it a “record suspension”. It seems to me that would remove the possibility of redemption or the interest that someone might have in clearing his or her name with a pardon and take away from the rehabilitative effects.

Does my colleague have any comments on that?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

I do not agree with that, Mr. Speaker. Removing pardon is the wrong way to go.

I believe in judicial discretion. This omnibus crime bill would take away judicial discretion. That is the wrong way to go. What this omnibus crime bill is missing is common sense. There is no common sense.