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 crime.

Topics

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed Bill C-16, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (military judges).

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to speak in favour of Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act, during this report stage. I am particularly pleased to support the amendments that would strengthen this important bill.

Before speaking to the proposed amendments, I would like to put them into a larger context.

After 20 years of police work and working within the justice system, I often hear great frustration with our justice system. Even when violent criminals are put behind bars, they never seem to complete their sentences, and before we know it, they are back on the street committing crimes. Meanwhile, the rights of the victims are overlooked and forgotten.

There is something wrong with that picture. Canadians know it, and so does our government.

When we first took office, we identified greater safety and security for Canadians as a priority. For the past six years, we have moved decisively on our law and order agenda. We have invested substantial resources to help law enforcement agencies do their jobs better. We have passed laws to ensure that offenders do serious time for serious crime. We have supported crime prevention to help keep youth away from gangs, drugs and violence. We have pursued these efforts with one overarching goal: to make our streets and communities safer.

I am proud to say that Bill C-10 is a natural extension of these efforts. The proposed legislation before the House would go a long way toward protecting the most vulnerable of our society, as well as victims of terrorism. It would hold offenders and supporters of terrorism more accountable for their actions.

Let me highlight exactly how it would do that.

First, the bill would continue the work begun with the serious time for serious crime act. To that end, it would establish or increase mandatory minimums and increase maximum sentences for various serious offences, particularly those related to children and youth. Offenders convicted of child exploitation would no longer be eligible for a conditional sentence or house arrest, and drug dealers involved with organized crime who target youth could also expect harsher sentences.

As well, we not willing to wait until a crime is committed before taking action. Police would be given the tools to be proactive rather than reactive. The bill would require judges to consider putting limits on suspected or convicted child sex offenders. It would empower police to arrest, without a warrant, offenders who are in breach of the conditions of release. In other words, the bill would put the rights of victims ahead of the rights of offenders, which is where they should be.

In the same vein, Bill C-10 introduces new measures both to increase the accountability of offenders and to strengthen the voices of victims.

Under the new legislation, offenders would be required to have a correctional plan that laid out clear expectations of behaviour. This would include, for example, a requirement to meet court-ordered obligations to repay victims or to pay child support.

The legislation also introduces new penalties for inmates who display disrespectful or intimidating behaviour, whether it is directed at staff or at other inmates.

The bill would also make an important change in exchanging the word “pardon” for the phrase “record suspension”. We want to send a clear message that closing off a criminal record from the public eye does not forgive the offence. The offences committed by these individuals can often scar victims for a lifetime, and we believe it is important to recognize that fact.

What is more, we would make it impossible for certain offenders to apply for a record suspension. In the government's view, anyone convicted of a sexual offence related to a minor does not deserve a record suspension.

In the interests of public safety, child molesters, even after release, should carry the history of their offence with them for all time, not as an extra punishment but to protect the safety of the most vulnerable in society, our children.

By the same token, the bill would allow the minister to refuse an offender's transfer from a foreign prison back to Canada if there was any risk to the public and, in particular, to the safety of a child. Offenders should serve the time in the country in which they were convicted.

Victims are generally kept in the dark about an offender's life in prison. They do not know whether offenders are taking part in rehabilitation programs, if they have been absent from institutions temporarily, or if they are being transferred to a minimum security facility. Victims deserve more, plain and simple. Therefore, Bill C-10 would give them the right to take part in conditional release board meetings, and to be in the loop about the behaviour and handling of offenders.

I have spoken up until now about keeping our streets and communities safer from crime, but there are other risks and other types of victims. I am speaking, of course, about terrorism and its victims. Just as victims of crime deserve a greater voice, so too do victims of terrorism acts. Bill C-10 would allow victims to seek redress in the courts against the perpetrators of terrorism and their supporters. It would set in place a rigorous process for the listing of state sponsors of terrorism by the Government of Canada.

Our government is determined to do everything in its power to protect Canadians and make our streets and communities safer for all. To achieve that goal, we want to make this legislation as strong as possible. I am proud that the government passed four amendments at the committee stage and has introduced another at report stage. I would like to add my support to the amendment proposed today and to the two passed by committee pertaining to public safety.

The initial legislation proposed that victims should be able to sue foreign states for supporting terrorism. The government has proposed today that victims should also be able to sue foreign states for having directly committed an act of terrorism. I am proud to support this proposed amendment. I am equally pleased to support the two amendments related to public safety passed by the committee. The first would help lighten the burden on victims of terrorism, while the second would allow a court to hear a matter based solely on the plaintiff's Canadian citizenship or permanent residency.

I want to add my thanks to the committee members for their good work. I must add that for all the hours I sat there, they did an unbelievable job on both sides. In recognition of the committee's close scrutiny of the bill, I urge all members to join me in supporting these amendments. Together, we can make our streets and communities safer for all Canadians.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, in no less than six months I have bought 13 copies of the book The Spirit Level by Wilkinson. I have given them away and I will buy more because it is a scientific work that shows how in the 33 richest, most developed countries, the four best countries in the world with outcomes including crime are the Scandinavian countries. The U.S. is the worst with these parameters and Canada is sliding toward the American model.

My question for the member is this. Instead of investing, as the U.S. has foolishly done and is now starting to see the error of its ways, when are the Conservatives, and hopefully the member, going to invest in education, health care, treatment for mental addictions, and especially work toward reducing the growing gap in income in some of the worst developed countries in the world?

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4:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a former police officer, there are a number of programs that are instituted by not only the RCMP but countless provincial and municipal police organizations that work toward trying to keep youth out of the system. We are pretty successful at it, but there is that segment of society that we cannot control. For those people, there needs to be a movement toward incarceration. It is unfortunate that has to occur, but it is part of the process.

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Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pause for just a moment to thank the hon. member for Kootenay--Columbia for the non-partisan way he credited members on both sides of the committee. This bill has been so filled with rancour in the debate that that was a nice departure.

However, I do find it worrying that there is a lot rhetoric about how the bill supports victims, but there is very little in the bill that actually does support victims. I was taken with the evidence of the Ottawa Victim Services director, Steve Sullivan, who asked, “Where is the support here for women who have been victims of sexual violence”? Where is the support, the counselling, the help for victims who need funding to be able to manage when they have been assaulted and cannot get to work? Where is the tangible help for victims because I do not see it in this legislation?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are victim support groups throughout the provinces, and I will speak about British Columbia and specifically, my constituency of Kootenay--Columbia.

Victim support is part of the provincial court system that allows victims to go and seek redress for whatever type of requirement they need, whether it is for, as the member indicated, trying to get here and there to a doctor's appointment or to a counselling appointment. It provides opportunities for people to find programs that are available to help them move forward after the crime has been committed and the perpetrator has been dealt with.

I believe we are doing an excellent job with regard to crime prevention programs and support for victims of crime.

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4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the benefit of those who are looking in on this particular debate today, there is some context to it. We talk about a balanced approach from the government with respect to how we deal with the criminal justice system. In budgets past we have made tremendous investments, multi-million dollar investments for that matter, in measures to prevent crime, to get to the at-risk youth. How did the opposition members vote on those? They opposed them, notwithstanding what they say today.

We have measures to put more front line police officers on the beat, working in the community to find those who are involved in crime and to work with community groups to keep people away from crime. How did they vote? They voted against it, notwithstanding what they say about prevention today.

Is not what we are dealing with today what the opposition has also stalled in previous Parliaments; that is, measures to rebalance the criminal justice system to deal with the public safety threats that are out there and it is reluctant to deal with? Would the member comment on that?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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4:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have been trying our best to move forward with Bill C-10 to ensure that the victims of crime are the ones that are recognized as the actual victims here. We have to ensure that those that commit the crimes do the time. I believe that Bill C-10 does that. I believe that we are heading in the right direction and I am all for this one.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak at report stage of Bill C-10, the Conservative omnibus bill. The bill is actually made up of nine bills combined into one. It is a bill that the Conservative government is ramming through the House without proper scrutiny. We do not even know how much it is going to cost. Witnesses were barely given time to speak as they were forced through committee so quickly.

New Democrats proposed to the government that the bill be divided, so that the parts which would improve public safety and help protect our children could be passed at all stages immediately. I am the father of two young children. I know how important it is to protect our children. Unfortunately, the Conservative government rejected our proposals.

We also proposed amendments to the bill, which the Conservatives flatly rejected at committee. The Conservatives do not want to debate the real problem with this legislation or any other legislation they put in front of Parliament.

Every day in the House the Conservatives undermine democracy by shutting down debate prematurely without reason. New Democrats tabled a motion in the House last Friday in a last attempt to stop this because this is a democracy and Canadians deserve a real debate.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that Bill C-10 would cost the federal government $5 billion over five years and the provinces and territories somewhere between $6 to $10 billion. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is working to complete more detailed projections; however, he has to work basically in the dark because not all of the facts and figures have been provided to him by the government. The government has not provided adequate information so he can do his work.

Many critics suspect that the government's refusal to produce realistic costing documents is because it has no idea what the real price tag for Bill C-10 is going to be. Worse yet, the government wants to force this legislation into law before we have a chance to find out how much it is going to cost Canadian taxpayers.

Since the introduction of this controversial omnibus bill, we have seen a groundswell of concern from across this country. Opposition to the Conservative crime agenda has been steadily mounting. Experts from across the political spectrum have urged the government to rethink the sweeping changes to the criminal justice system that are contained in Bill C-10.

We have heard repeated warnings about huge costs to taxpayers, the crippling impact on our courts, and the enormous pressure that will be put on our already struggling corrections system. These serious warnings are simply being dismissed by the Conservatives without any explanation.

In response to questions about Bill C-10, the Minister of Justice recently commented, “We're not governing on the basis of the latest statistics”. Clearly, facts and evidence, and research were not a priority when the government was drafting Bill C-10, but neither was the cost to taxpayers.

Provincial leaders spoke out in committee against the bill. They have been very clear that they are not ready to bear the costs of the government's political agenda, nor do they agree with many of the measures contained in the bill.

The Canadian Association of Crown Counsel has spoken out and has said that Bill C-10 will overload prosecutors and jam our already stressed court system.

This so-called tough on crime agenda has already failed across the border in the United States, where governments are moving away from the same approach that the Conservatives are now proposing. States like Texas are now abandoning the mandatory minimum and three strikes policies that lead to ballooning prison costs, populations and skyrocketing costs to the taxpayers. States have found that these approaches have actually done little to prevent crime, but do a great deal toward bankrupting the states.

Canada should be learning from the mistakes of our neighbours, not repeating them. We need practical solutions on crime that improves safety in our communities, not old strategies that are expensive and proven to be failures.

There are some measures in the bill, like provisions that toughen laws around child luring, sexual exploitation of children, that we as New Democrats fully support, but there are also those that will do nothing to make our streets and communities safer places.

New Democrats believe that the primary goal of any legislation, any changes to our criminal justice system, should be public safety, safer streets and to protect our families and communities. A major way to accomplish this is by supporting cost effective crime prevention programs that really make a difference, something which the government has failed to address.

I spoke up about a program last week. There is a society in my constituency whose funding is being cut and it actually helps at-risk youth, educating them about self-esteem and getting back into school. The funding for this program is being cut by the Conservatives.

Our communities would be safer if the government focused on goals like putting more police on the streets and stopping gangs from recruiting our youth.

Conservatives always talk about how they are investing into policing, the front line officers. The facts are that the Auditor General, in the last report in June, pointed out that police officers were woefully underfunded to fight against gangs and crime. We need more front line police officers. Not only do they help prevent crime, but they help to deter crime. That is a good way to go about preventing crime in our communities.

We should ensure that our corrections system has rehabilitation programs that reduce the rate of re-offending. Unfortunately, the government is cutting funding to prevention programs like the Pathfinders about which I talked. Youth gang prevention programs are critical to the future of our children and the safety of our communities.

This Conservative approach is not smart on crime. Canadians deserve better. I urge the government to reconsider the real concerns of Canadians expressed by members of the opposition and people across the country.

At the last stage of the bill, I urge the Conservative members to consider the amendments proposed by New Democrats and I urge it not to push the bill through.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's comments and am very interested to hear his viewpoint on a couple of things he brought forward.

First, he said that there was a groundswell across Canada against this bill. I was actually one of the members of Parliament who had a protest outside my office. There were 10 people and the majority of them were affiliated with special interest groups, some involved with the New Democratic Party and some with, let us say, original points of view on drug use.

The member said that we needed more police officers on the streets. Members know that we provided money for 1,800 more front-line officers, but the NDP voted against it. I know the gentleman is a new member, but he does not realize that his party's stance on this is way out of touch with Canadians.

He talked about the program cut in his community. We established these programs, but they are not meant to exist forever. Then New Democrats want us to extend programs that they have already voted against.

Could he address the fact that there are differences in the criminal justice system? There are hard-nosed criminals who repeat offences and the best thing we can do for victims is keep them off the street instead of allowing them back on the street and coddling them.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I may be new to the House, but I know what has been going on in the community. I have been listening to my constituents and there is huge support for the proposals that New Democrats are making. In fact, I have heard from many of my constituents who are dead set against this approach to the crime and prison agenda.

I do not have to look at the Conservatives' facts. I can look at the facts that are provided by the Auditor General. The Auditor General, in his June report, stated that the RCMP was woefully underfunded by the government and that we needed more front-line police officers so we could deter crime from happening in the first place.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, my question for the hon. member relates to the impact of this bill on the provincial coffers. In my province, provincial institutions are already strained. This will add an additional strain, yet apparently there is no compensation that comes with it. We have heard from the Canadian Association of Crown Prosecutors that there is a lot of money for police and prisons, but in between there is a system that is stressed to the max and that system is largely the responsibility of provincial governments.

Could I hear from my hon. friend with respect to the impact on provincial governments?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, we heard from a number of ministers at committee. We heard from Quebec, B.C. and a number of other provinces. The fact is this is basically offloading a federal cost to the provinces. I read in newspapers this morning that B.C. was already running a very high deficit. This is going to add additional costs to the provinces. Some of the programs that the provinces are responsible for, such as education, health care and schools, are going to be chopped as a result of the federal government bill.

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4:30 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have heard the Conservatives talk repeatedly about police officers. I am a former police officer. Is our hon. member aware that before he was elected, the NDP asked repeatedly for thousands more police officers? We just heard a member say that there was money for police officers and prisons. Unfortunately, it is only prisons.

Is he aware that New Democrats have been asking for more police officers and that the need has not been met?