House of Commons Hansard #59 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

There has been a lack of respect shown throughout the process, not only when it came to the amendments we proposed, which were defeated, but also for the entire process. As soon as the bill was introduced in the House and debate began—only in committee was there a debate, none really occurred here—all of our amendments were defeated without any real discussion.

The same thing is happening today with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice repeating that they have a mandate. They do not have a mandate to show disrespect for this institution, to introduce bills of questionable constitutionality or to put forward bad policy, which we see in this bill.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague could provide some comment on how the government has piled so many of what should have been independent, separate bills into one larger omnibus bill, thereby ultimately denying members and the public the opportunity to provide more comment on what should have been individual bills.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government believed that the very title of the legislation, the “safe streets and communities act”, alone validated the legislation and made it self-justifying.

The government also believed, as I said, that it had a mandate. It keeps repeating it as a mantra: it had a mandate for this legislation. Therefore, why would it not bundle all nine bills together into one bill?

The government believed we had already debated these bills, so why should it not rush the bill through in 100 days? The very first piece of legislation in that bundle, the justice for victims of terrorism act, had never been presented in this House, regardless of what the government says. We never debated it in this House.

With respect to other bills, there are new members of Parliament, as the member for Gatineau mentioned, who ought to have the right not only to debate this legislation in Parliament for the first time, but also to consult their constituents with regard to this legislation. This was disrespect not only for the parliamentary process in this chamber, but also with respect to consultation with our constituents and to the policy process as a whole.

As well, it is the responsibility of a government, through its Minister of Justice, to certify that the legislation it is proposing has been shown to comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The fact is that those amendments by the government could have been tabled in this omnibus bill. The constitutionality being as suspect as it is raises for me, as a former minister of justice, some question as to whether they were properly filtered as to their constitutionality, let alone the bad policy contained in them.

I do not want to question the good faith of the government; I want to question the manner in which it proceeded, and that goes to the whole question. The government believed it was acting for victims and believed it was seeking to protect safe streets and communities; however, that cannot be done without appropriate consultation, without appropriate debate, without allowing members to engage with constituents, without filtering for constitutionality and without allowing the evidence-based considerations that underpin such policy legislation to be addressed and, where appropriate, to be acted upon through amendments and the like.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills.

I am pleased to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act. There is no doubt that this bill is a source of contention, which is pretty obvious, but not everyone is opposed to this bill. Many witnesses who appeared before the committee supported it. For instance, the bill's proposal to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was supported by the law enforcement representatives who testified, as well as some academics and some victims groups.

Before speaking to the bill, I would like to quote from a witness who appeared before the committee in 2009 and testified on Bill C-15. Mr. Chuck Doucette, vice-president of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, had this to say about the drug situation:

Things have changed from when I first started in drug enforcement in 1977. Over those 30 years, I saw the sentences for drug offences getting progressively weaker. At the same time, I saw the problems related to drug abuse getting progressively larger. I also saw the drug scene in downtown Vancouver increase as the enforcement efforts in that area decreased. From my perspective, I do not see how anyone could possibly examine the past 30 years and make a case that weaker sentences lead to less damaging social consequences. My experience is that the more lenient we got, the more problems we got.

The provisions of Bill C-10 amending the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are, for all intents and purposes, the same as the provisions contained in Bill C-15, which died on the order paper, and Mr. Doucette's words are still as accurate today as they then were.

I would like to take a few moments to explain the nature of the problem that the drug-related provisions of Bill C-10 seek to address. The bill is aimed at tackling the problem of drug crimes, particularly drug trafficking and drug production, both of which occur in all regions of Canada. Over the last decade, domestic production and distribution of marijuana and synthetic drugs has dramatically increased, resulting in serious problems in some regions of Canada and often overwhelming the capacity of law enforcement agencies.

These operations pose serious health and public safety hazards to those in or around them. They produce environmental hazards, pose cleanup problems and endanger the health and lives of communities. They are lucrative businesses and attract a variety of organized crime organizations. Huge profits are available with little risk to operators, and these profits are used to finance other criminal activities.

Penalties in sentences are considered by many to be too lenient and not commensurate with the level of harm imposed on communities by such criminal activities. According to Statistics Canada, marijuana cultivation offences more than doubled from 1994 to 2004, rising from approximately 3,400 offences in 1994 to 8,000 in 2004.

According to a study on marijuana grow operations in British Columbia in 2003, approximately 39% of all reported marijuana cultivation cases, 5,414, were located in B.C. Between 1997 and 2000, the total number of these cases increased by over 220%. Although the number of individual operations in B.C. levelled off between 2000 and 2003, the estimated quantity of marijuana produced increased from 19,729 kilograms in 1997 to a seven-year high of 79,817 kilograms in 2003, this because of the size and sophistication of individual operations.

These few observations were made so that there can be an appreciation of the seriousness of the drug crime situation in our nation. The Government of Canada has recognized this. It has recognized that serious drug crimes, such as large-scale grow operations, pose a threat to the safety of our streets and communities, and the drug-related provisions of Bill C-10 are part of the government's strategy to address this problem.

This bill proposes amendments to strengthen provisions in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act regarding penalties for serious drug offences by ensuring that these types of offences are punished by the imposition of a mandatory minimum penalty. With this bill, the government is demonstrating its commitment to improving the safety and security of Canadians and communities across Canada.

As has been stated before, the government recognizes and acknowledges that not all drug offenders and drug offences pose the same risk of danger and violence. Bill C-10 recognizes this reality, and that is why the bill proposes a focused and targeted approach to dealing with serious drug crimes.

Accordingly, new penalties will not apply to the offence of possession, nor will they apply to offences involving all types of drugs. What the bill does is focus on more serious drug offences involving more serious drugs.

Overall, the proposal represents a tailored approach to the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences, such as trafficking, importation, exportation and production involving such drugs as cocaine, heroine, methamphetamine and cannabis. In my view, this bill contains a seamless approach to dealing with serious drug offences.

I should note that the drug-related provisions of the bill were amended in committee. Indeed, the government moved an amendment to clause 41, which deals with the imposition of a sentence of imprisonment of at least nine months for the offence of producing one to 200 plants inclusively where the production is for the purpose of trafficking and where there are certain aggravating factors. The adoption of this motion narrowed the offence such that the minimum penalty would now apply to instances in which more than 5 plants but fewer than 201 are produced, the production is for the purpose of trafficking and certain aggravating factors are present. Accordingly, the minimum penalty would no longer apply for the production of five plants or fewer.

The government's position on drug use is clear: offenders involved in serious drug crimes need to realize that there are serious consequences for their actions. I believe that reasonable Canadians agree that this approach should be applied to drug offenders whenever these offenders are involved in trafficking dangerous drugs, growing drugs like marijuana, or producing synthetic chemical drugs.

I am satisfied that Bill C-10 has been thoroughly examined by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and that we are rapidly approaching our goal of seeing this legislation passed into law. This bill is part of the government's continued commitment to take steps to protect Canadians and make our streets and communities safer. Canadians want a justice system that has clear and strong laws that denounce and deter serious crimes, including serious drug crimes. They want laws that impose penalties that adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes. This bill accomplishes that objective.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.

Attempts to amend Bill C-10 were denied by the Speaker because those amendments should have been proposed during consideration in committee. These amendments had to do with compensating victims of terrorism. There had already been strong reactions with regard to victims of terrorism and the amendments we were trying to make to the bill. Everyone needed to grasp the importance of addressing this issue. There were flaws and problems in the way that victims could seek compensation from foreign countries. It is not clear that they will get money from foreign countries.

Can the parliamentary secretary confirm to the House that these amendments will go to the Senate so that it can at least consider them before returning the bill to the House?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit concerned by the fact that the question is on procedure and not on the substance of the bill.

This bill is substantive. It includes 208 measures for protecting the public. Public protection is the very purpose of the bill. Canadians gave us such a strong mandate in order to protect people. That is what Canadians wanted.

Instead of talking about procedure, let us talk about the real purpose of the bill: to protect the most vulnerable.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I have a particular concern with the safety in our communities. I represent the community of Newmarket--Aurora. A lot of young families live there, and I have a real concern for the children in those families.

I was reading some of the quotes that we had from the discussion of this bill. One of them was from Superintendent Eric Slinn. He said:

When we are dealing with synthetic drugs, we are dealing with volatile chemicals and the danger is extreme. The same is true for marijuana grow operations. We are concerned about children inside these grow operations or clandestine labs. We need to emphasize the danger to public safety.

There is another quote from Peter Sadler, a sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department. He said, “I believe the mandatory prison sentences will give a tool to law enforcement that is currently lacking. It targets criminals who are operating the business of drug trafficking”.

There are many others here who talk about public safety. Could the member speak directly to the issue of children and how we are going to be protecting them?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the very relevant question.

Obviously, the bill is geared directly toward protecting children from drug offences. These are very vulnerable individuals and the trafficking to children is going to attract more severe sentences. Why? Because they are people who are in greater need of protection. The enforcement officials have long understood that these types of measures have to be put in place. This is why witnesses have come to the committee and expressed their unwavering support for what we are doing here in Bill C-10.

People are saying that offences in general are down and while that may be true, there has been an increase in sexual offences. Pedophilia is up 36%, drug offences are up 11%, sexual offences are up 10%, and criminal harassment is up 5%. We are very happy that homicide has gone down, but it is a moving target among the issues of crime and this bill addresses those issues.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find that the member is off to a bad start in his position. At some point, the truth will out. We are talking about immediate safety, and no one here is against protecting people. We are all in favour of immediate safety. I invite the member to come with me to the Centre des jeunes in Montreal. We are talking about rehabilitation and long-term, sustainable safety.

Does he realize that a 15-year-old who is in jail for 20 years will be 35 years old when he gets out? He will attend the school of crime for 20 years. What will happen in society then? Will the member be there to protect society? Instead of spouting nonsense and repeating the party line, he should talk about what he knows.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the hon. member was present when I was asked a question earlier.

According to a recent Leger Marketing poll, 80% of people in Quebec, the member's province, are in favour of a stricter justice system. In addition, another poll has confirmed that one out of every two people in major Quebec cities does not feel safe.

The hon. minister—

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

The hon. member for Bourassa is rising on a point of order.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Is he referring to the poll indicating that 42% of Quebeckers believe that the bill will have no effect on crime?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Since this is not a point of order, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice to continue with his response.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives do not govern based on statistics, because you can make them say whatever you want. I want to quote what former justice minister Marc Bellemare said when he made his plea about Bill C-10. Since the member raised the issue of rehabilitation, I am going to quote Mr. Bellemare.

We all agree with rehabilitation. But first, do we have the right to better protect victims and children? It is high time we did so. Studies show that four out of five Quebeckers would like our justice system to be more strict. I agree 100%.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills
Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Minister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be in the House today to talk about the important changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that are included in the safe streets and communities act.

Through this package of amendments, this government is taking action to strengthen the ways in which the youth justice system would deal with serious repeat and violent young offenders. The package of Youth Criminal Justice Act amendments responds to issues raised during cross-country consultations led by the Minister of Justice, to key decisions of the courts, to recommendations put forward by the Nunn commission, to concerns raised by the provinces and territories, and to positions put forward by witnesses who appeared before the justice committee during its study of the proposed amendments.

The reforms reflect the widely held view that while the Youth Criminal Justice Act is working well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes, there are concerns about a small number of youth who commit serious repeat or violent offences, including those youth who appear to be spiraling out of control toward more dangerous and harmful behaviour.

The proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act would amend the act's general principles to highlight protection of the public; clarify and simplify the provisions relating to pre-trial detention; revise the sentencing provisions to include specific deterrents and denunciation of sentencing principles; broaden a range of cases for which custody would be available and require the Crown to consider seeking adult sentences for youth who commit serious violent offences; require judges to consider allowing publication in appropriate cases where young persons are found guilty of violent offences; require police to keep records of any extrajudicial measures they use in response to alleged offences by young persons; define violent offences and offence in the commission of which a young person causes, attempts to cause, or threatens to cause bodily harm, and includes conduct that endangers life or safety; respond to the Supreme Court of Canada 2008 decision of R. v. D.B. by removing the presumptive offence and other inoperative provisions from the YCJA and by clarifying the test and onus requirements related to adult sentences; and require that no youth under 18 sentenced to custody would serve their sentences in an adult prison or penitentiary.

In recent weeks, we have often heard it suggested that with the changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act proposed in Bill C-10, the government is moving the youth criminal justice system toward a more adult punitive system that would not sufficiently allow for the rehabilitation and reintegration of youth. However, this is simply not the case.

In fact, when the proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are viewed in the proper context, it is abundantly clear that the youth criminal justice system would remain separate and distinct from the adult system, would be based on the presumption of a diminished moral blameworthiness of youth, and would emphasize the rehabilitation of youth and their reintegration back into society.

As I have already stated, the comprehensive review and consultation process undertaken by this government found that while most provinces, territories and stakeholders believe that the current youth justice legislation works well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes, there are concerns about the way the system responds to the small number of youth who commit serious violent offences or are serious repeat offenders who may need a more focused approach to ensure that the public is protected.

For the most part, the changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act in Bill C-10 would target this relatively small group of offenders by providing the courts with more tools to deal with them while leaving most of the current act as is.

Let me focus on a few of the proposed changes that some have used as the basis of their criticism that Bill C-10 would dramatically change the existing approach to youth justice.

First, during the justice committee hearings on the former Bill C-4 and on Bill C-10, some witnesses expressed the view that highlighting protection of the public in the declaration of principle found in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act would move us toward a more punitive youth justice system and away from a system that emphasizes rehabilitation and reintegration.

However, the proposed amendment actually states that the youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by holding young persons accountable through proportionate measures, by promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons, by supporting the prevention of crime, and by referring young persons to programs or agencies in the community to address the circumstances underlying their offending behaviour.

Clearly, the amendment recognizes that rather than being mutually exclusive objectives, rehabilitation and reintegration are key to the protection of society.

Further, Bill C-10 would add to the Youth Criminal Justice Act declaration of principles a fundamental principle of justice articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2008 case of R. v. D.B.; namely, that the youth criminal justice system must be based on the principle of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability.

It is important to recognize that this statement of fundamental principle would apply throughout the act. I am pleased to acknowledge that this proposed amendment received widespread support among witnesses who appeared before the justice committee on the legislation.

It is also important to point out that most of the principles set out in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act would not be altered by Bill C-10. Section 3, which again applies throughout the act, would continue to emphasize the importance of rehabilitation and reintegration; fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the greater dependency of young persons and their reduced level of maturity; enhanced procedural protection for youth; the importance of timely intervention; repair of harm done to victims; the involvement of parents, families and communities; respect for gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences; and the needs of aboriginal young persons and young persons with special needs.

Therefore, the proposed changes to the declaration of principles reflect a balanced approach that, together with the preservation of the existing principles, will guide those within the youth criminal justice system to respond to youth offending in a fair and effective manner.

Bill C-10 also proposes amendments to the principles of sentencing in the Youth Criminal Justice Act by adding specific deterrence and denunciation as possible objectives for a judge to consider in sentencing young offenders. Under the current law, the courts have said that deterrence and denunciation are not included as objectives in youth sentencing. Bill C-10 proposes adding specific deterrence and denunciation as possible objectives of a youth sentence, but makes it clear that a youth sentence may, not must, have these objectives.

In addition, the proposed amendment also makes it clear that a sentence must still be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and to the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence. That means, for example, that judges would not be able to give a young offender an extra long sentence just to send a message that the unlawful behaviour was wrong.

Moreover, it is important to recognize, in proposing this addition to the principles of sentencing, the government is not amending the other sentencing principles in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The existing purpose and principles of sentencing, which clearly emphasize the importance of both proportionality and rehabilitation, remain intact.

In my view, the proposed amendment, taken together with the existing purpose and principles of the sentencing in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, represents a balanced approach that would give the courts more tools to respond to youth crime in an appropriate and effective way.

Another amendment that has been subject of criticism is the provision that would allow for the publication of names of young offenders who have been found guilty of a violent offence and given a youth sentence.

Let us be clear. Currently, the act allows for a judge to lift a publication ban. This is not new.

Bill C-10 would amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to require a judge to consider lifting the publication ban if he or she is satisfied that the young person poses a significant risk of committing another violent offence and the lifting of the ban is necessary to protect the public against that risk. This threshold is not insignificant, and in determining whether to order the lifting of the publication ban, the court is required to consider the principles set out in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, as well as the purpose and principles of sentencing to which I referred a moment ago. Furthermore, the onus of satisfying the court as to the appropriateness of lifting the publication ban lies with the Crown.

Therefore, once again we see that the proposed changes, together with the application of existing principles in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, reflect a balanced approach toward responding to youth crime.

Finally, in examining the allegations that Bill C-10 would move our youth system toward a more adult system, I think it is important to remind the House that this bill would change the Youth Criminal Justice Act to make it clear that no young persons under the age of 18 will serve their sentences in an adult prison or penitentiary, regardless of whether they are given an adult or youth sentence.

Youth justice is in the area of law that generates a great deal of debate from a wide variety of perspectives. While I certainly respect everyone's right to his or her opinion, I urge all interested parties to examine the changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act being proposed in Bill C-10 in a full and proper context.

These changes represent a balanced and focused response to concerns identified through a significant consultation process. The amendments would provide additional tools to respond more effectively to a relatively small number of young offenders who commit serious, repeat or violent offences, while protecting the elements of the Youth Criminal Justice Act that have been working well.