House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentences.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his comments today and his efforts to put more police on the streets.

I constantly hear from people in my riding their concerns about crime. There is a notion that crime is going down. I think it is going down because people are not reporting crime. They do not see the use in doing that.

Statistics Canada reports increases in pornography, firearms, drug offences, criminal harassment and sexual assault. Could the minister talk about the efforts in the bill to specifically address those types of crimes?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I note with some interest that members of the NDP laugh when we talk about the issue of crime. They think crime is funny. They may live in safe, secure, gated communities where they do not have to worry about that kind of thing but most people are concerned about crime.

For example, in 2009, in Winnipeg, the violent stuff, sexual assaults, robbery and murder, jumped by 11%. That same category of crime in 2008 went up by 14%. That is 25% in those two years. It is no wonder that an NDP government came to us and asked if we could do something about the legislation.

Those individuals who sit in the luxury of their seats here and perhaps in the luxury of Ottawa may be insulated from crime, or maybe not. Maybe they are insulated from the reality that their constituents are facing. Let them laugh, but it is their premiers who have been asking for this type of legislation. They should go back to their premiers and ask why they wanted this legislation and why we are bringing it forward.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to touch on the comments we heard from the minister regarding the transfer of prisoners.

Members may recall that the Americans sent us a diplomatic note on this issue, and the problem was inconsistency. The problem was that we were not doing our job here. This legislation will not help that. The Americans are telling us to take care of our own and we are saying no.

The minister said that individuals would fulfill their sentence there, but there will be no supervision when they come back to Canada. People here are saying that this would make public safety worse, not better.

I would like to hear the minister's comments on that.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, only a socialist would say that bringing a dangerous prisoner back to Canada and putting that individual back on the street would be great for public safety.

We are concerned about that relationship with the United States. I had a long conversation with the homeland security secretary and she was not aware of the kind of prisoners the Americans were holding there. Prisoners spend 85% of their time doing federal time and, when they get federal time, as some prisoners might know, it is a long period of time, and they spend most of it down there. The reason they want to come back to Canada is that they can get out on parole after one-sixth or one-third of time spent and then they are back out on the street where they commit more offences and victimize more Canadians.

Appropriate criteria is set out in the bill. I would point out that the Federal Court recently came out with a whole series of decisions saying that the minister has a broad degree of discretion in making these decisions. However, we want to put some more guidelines in place. This legislation would give the exact guidelines that the member is looking for.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister said that we do not understand crime. I was a victim of assault, so I understand the impact of crime.

The government takes expert advice and hires expensive consultants for its financial information. Why does it continue to refuse to listen to experts who have refuted the effectiveness of mandatory sentences and continues to ignore the 20 year trend of decline in the crime rate?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, last year, there were 2.1 million reported crimes. Statistics Canada indicates that the rate of reported crimes is going down. Reported crimes dropped to about 31% from about 34%.

The point is that many people have simply given up trying to deal with the justice system. What we are doing, as opposed to what the opposition is trying to do, is restoring faith in the criminal justice system. Every individual should be entitled to walk down the street ,not just during the day but 24 hours a day. It is our right as Canadians. We have a right to be safe from criminals.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to what is a very complex, complicated bill that is actually being treated without the proper oversight from the government.

We have heard from other members of the House the problem with the bill when it comes to the costs, which is something that is resonating from Canadians. As we hear, the financial crisis is getting worse. In fact, I believe the Minister of Finance right now is speaking to it just outside this place. We have a government that said that the priority would be the economy and yet, at the first opportunity to deal with the economy, what do we see? We see an omnibus bill, which is an ominous bill, that would pass down costs to provinces.

Just yesterday, the Minister of Finance stood and, with great vitriol, said that the government would never do what the previous Liberal government had done, which was to push costs down to the provinces. Well, that is what this bill would do. Billions and billions of dollars in costs would be pushed down to the provinces, be it members' home provinces, or mine, right across the country.

What we do not see is the evidence as to why we need this legislation. What we have is the politics, which is what we have heard time and time again from the government. In fact, since 2006, it has been the brand of the government to get tough on crime, often waiting until the next election and the next election to bring in its legislation because it is also helpful to the Conservatives to manipulate this issue.

There is a lot in the bill. I will touch on a couple of things that are important. I already touched on one in my question to the minister with regard to foreign affairs and the transfer of prisoners. I was interested in the minister's response when I asked him how he was dealing with the fact that we had a diplomatic note sent to us from the United States last year telling us that we needed to take care of the problem of Canadian citizens who are arrested in the United States. The United States told us that we were not taking care of them and that we needed to bring them back to our own country. What do we do? We outsource the problem to the United States in this case.

The reciprocal is interesting. The United States has a convention and a policy that it does not let that happen. We created a diplomatic spat over an issue around whether we will take care of Canadian citizens who are arrested abroad. I could tell many other stories about the problems of Canadian citizens stranded abroad but I will save that for another day.

The point is that, in this legislation, the minister stood just minutes ago and said that we should not worry about it because he would be given, as a minister, a lot of room to interpret and, therefore, be able to deal with the issue. The problem right now is the way in which the minister and the government are interpreting it. Canadians who are arrested in the United States are often left there, and there are inconsistencies. We have percentages from 14% of applications that are actually received and dealt with by the Americans, to upwards of 62% over one year. In other words, there is a total inconsistency in the application for the transfer of prisoners.

Why does that matter? The claim of the government is that this is about public safety. When prisoners finish their time in the United States, they then come back to Canada. We can talk about the situation of prisons there in a minute. However, if the government is concerned about public safety, there is no supervision of those prisoners after. The minister says that we should not worry because that will be taken care of, that at a time when the government is cutting services to do the actual supervision that is required.

Here is the problem. We have the Americans coming to us with a diplomatic note, which, in Foreign Affairs, is substantive. They do not write diplomatic notes every day. It is when there is a problem that cannot be resolved between countries. A diplomatic notes raises the red flag to say that we are not doing enough. The response from the government is to basically ignore it and say that the American prisons are much tougher and we would rather they stay there.

The Conservatives have been in power since 2006 and it is saying that they would rather the prisoners stay in the United States because it is a better situation and we want them to stay there and, when they come back, they can just go out on the street without supervision. Talk about cognitive distance. We have it in front of us with this one example of transfer of prisoners.

By the way, it is not just the NDP. I know that does not always sell with my friend across the way as a salient argument. We are talking about diplomats from the United States. We are talking about people who deal with the criminal justice system, the advocates and lawyers, who are saying that this is a real problem that we need to deal with, never mind the people who are trying to deal with crime prevention. The bill fails just on that one piece. It actually undermines our credibility internationally with our best friend and closest neighbour.

I will turn to the issue of taking a stronger stance against perpetrators of terror, which is also in the bill. On the surface, I think we could all agree, it is important that there should be ways of dealing with anyone who is involved in or funding terrorism. It is about preventing terrorism but we have concerns with what the bill would do. We believe this is a valid issue that should be dealt with, no question, but there are some components in the bill that are worthy of putting out.

The bill would create a cause of action that would allow victims of terrorism to sue individuals, organizations and terrorist entities in Canadian courts for loss or damage suffered as a result of terrorist acts as defined in the Criminal Code. Second, it amends the State Immunity Act to remove state immunity for states that are on a list of countries, established by cabinet, that have supported or currently support terrorism. The bill would allow victims to sue foreign states that are on the list.

That sounds fine, and I would say there are some good things in that, but there are significant steps that we need to look at. There are a couple of concerns I want to underline because they are very serious. If we are going to do this, we need to do it right.

The question is whether amending the State Immunity Act would cause retaliation against Canadians. What are the risks? I have not heard from government why it is limiting the cause of action to a certain list of states. This is where we have to focus in. If we just list certain states, then we are saying that it is open for others and we would be defining terrorism in a very limited way. That is where I think the bill needs some work.

Also, there is the question of the merit in extending the cause of action created by the bill to victims in other forms of state violations, such as human rights and torture. Frankly, I would have liked to have seen us fold that in. I believe my colleague from the Liberal Party had legislation to amend the State Immunity Act.

Right now a person can go after someone for economic cause and sue someone in another country, but if they have been tortured, they can not. We have had many cases in this country, the Mr. Arar case being one, where they cannot use our courts to seek justice. It is a human rights issue and it is an issue we need to take on. I have no idea why the government did not include it.

I was happy to support my colleague, the former justice minister in the Liberal government, who brought legislation forward to do that. It is sensible to amend the State Immunity Act for those Canadians who have had the unfortunate experience of being tortured by other governments and sometimes with the complicity and knowledge of our own government. It is absolutely critical that we do that. It is not in the bill and it should be. That is a failing facet of the bill.

It is very interesting to hear the rationale for the omnibus bill. It is along the lines that the government believes it would deal with a perceived problem and sometimes a factual problem. The government's perceived problem is that crime is higher and is getting worse.

Crime is in the eye of the beholder, of those who have suffered as victims, as my colleague said. However, the programs we have in place for reconstructive justice and reconciliation, sadly and bizarrely, are not being funded to the degree they should be.

If we are serious about crime and serious about victims, then we have to be serious about funding those programs. Many of us have talked to victims and some of us are victims. The one thing victims want is justice, but there is no justice in using a hammer to whack a peanut. What we are talking about here is making sure there is justice for victims and making sure there is reconciliation.

I attended a conference in California on HIV and the law, and what is happening in the United States. The spectacle right now is that judges are forcing the State of California to release prisoners. Why? Because the “three strikes and you are out” policy and putting people in jail for drug crimes has failed.

There is a consensus, with the exception of our friends across the way, that the approach used in the war on drugs was an abysmal failure. Why? Ask people like Newt Gingrich,. My goodness, I never thought I would use him for validation, but it turns out he is now. God bless him, Newt Gingrich now says not to do what they did because it is costly and ineffective.

California has privatized its prisons. It has more prisoners than it can handle. Judges are forcing the state to release prisoners. California has absolutely no programs in the prisons to deal with treating addictions, which we all know is a major problem in our prisons and the U.S. prisons. What are we going to do? It turns out we are going to adopt its failed policy.

I would plead with Canadians to hold their members of Parliament to account on this because it is going to cost us more. There is the economic argument regarding downloading all the costs to provinces which right now have difficulty withstanding the costs associated with education, health, et cetera. There is the question of justice. Does this work? The evidence is pretty clear in other jurisdictions that it does not.

Then there is the question of politics. I have sensed a change in this country around why governments and politicians are using issues as important as justice and criminal justice for political gain. We only need to look at the government's talking points. Government members are not citing evidence from peer-reviewed studies; they are saying they have received a mandate so it is a blank cheque and they can do what they want.

It is very important that we look at this issue carefully. If the prisons are full of people who need help, they need to be given supports. Victims need justice, but we will not find it in the bill to the extent that it should be.

We do see little parcels of politics, such as, if the government wants to give the notion that things are really bad, it says that it is going to crack down. It is going to make sure that judges are not allowed to look at the circumstances, and instead it will direct them. The government will make sure that more prisons are built because that is its idea of justice. The government will make sure in the transfer of prisoners to keep them in the United States because the U.S. is tougher on crime; or on something as important as the State Immunity Act, it will not fold in the whole issue when it comes to victims of torture and other human rights abuses.

I wonder whether Canadians see in this legislation any change in politics that they were hoping to see, such as looking at the problem from an evidence-based point of view. If the evidence is such that crime has changed, and I acknowledge that, the indications are it is lower. Let us look at how to prevent crime and get smart on crime. This tough on crime idea is to put people in jail for longer and bring in mandatory minimum sentences. To be smart on crime, which is the way to go, is to look at preventing crime.

In many of the downtown core ridings in many of the cities across the country, the programs to help youth at risk are themselves at risk. I am thinking of recreation programs, arts programs, access for kids from lower income families to things to which middle-class families and families of better means can afford to send their kids. These programs have been cut.

Part of prevention is to make sure there is equity of access for kids. As a teacher who taught in a downtown school, I know what happens when kids do not have access to recreation, the arts, et cetera. They are given fewer choices and less opportunity. If we invested more of our dollars into prevention and opportunity for our kids, we would not have to worry about what will happen later in their lives. We would be able to prevent crime.

It goes without saying that when we look at prevention and reconciliation in the case of victims, we would be able to deal with crime in a strategic way, not a political way. Over the last couple of years, the framework that has been set in this country is that we will deal with crime in an overtly political way, which is unfortunate. It is unfortunate for victims. It is unfortunate for those who for many different reasons find themselves before the criminal justice system.

I want to finish my comments by underlining something that is a crisis in the United States, but we must not be arrogant because we have a similar problem and challenge. There is a disproportionate number of African Americans in the U.S. prison system. That is not news. It is a disturbing trend that has been going on for many years. We must not be arrogant about it in our country, because we have a similar challenge, and that is the disproportionate number of first nations people in our prisons.

Like many members in this place, I was very proud when we acknowledged the issue of what happened in the residential schools. That acknowledgement was a proud moment for Canada, but what did those words mean? If there is a disproportionate number of first nations, aboriginal and Inuit people in our prisons and we have not acknowledged why they are there, we are simply treating them in the same manner as is happening in the United States, as people who broke the law and let us just send them to jail. We have not only failed in terms of dealing with the situation on the ground, but we also have turned our backs to the spirit of what that reconciliation was supposed to be about in the House of Commons a couple of years ago.

On the issue of crime and justice, we need more justice. We need more prevention. We need to make sure that we honour our treaties with our allies in the United States. When it comes to looking at the State Immunity Act and making sure that we acknowledge that it needs to be amended, we have to take in the issue of torture, we have to take in the issue of human rights. If we do not do that, then we will have failed in that opportunity as well.

I hope Canadians will get in touch with their members of Parliament regarding what the government is doing on this issue. The costs are financial. This is about dealing with an issue which all Canadians are seized with, but doing it in an intelligent manner, based on evidence and making sure we take what I believe is an overtly political agenda out of an extremely important issue. We need to deal with it in a sensible manner for all of our citizens and all our constituents.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on a good speech and a good analysis of the bill.

He touched upon the cost of the bill. We have had some discussion about that. There is also the cost of not doing crime prevention.

Crime prevention is critical to lowering the rates and making sure people get back on the right track for those who had committed small crimes. I used to run a youth program, and we had a 90% success rate when there was intervention. They had a job. They had hope and opportunity. They went back to school.

I want to ask the member a specific question in terms of crime prevention. Windsor has the largest border crossing in Canada and North America, and our customs facility is being moved to Fort Erie, nearly 400 kilometres away. Customs officers will have to phone someone 400 kilometres away to see whether they should move on suspicion of drugs, guns and smuggling, which are the tools for organized crime, tools that inflict a lot of serious problems on people.

That move was motivated by the possibility of cutting a couple of million dollars. There will be a cut of a couple of million dollars and that greater intrusion.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that if we are to be smart on crime, we have to invest in the right places, but the government cut in an area where there is a huge need for more resources.

If we are going to be smart on crime, we have to ensure there is the requisite supervision of our borders.

The member is absolutely right. A huge issue is guns coming over the border and we must prevent that. The NDP has called for more resources for the border to be smart on crime. The best way to deal with lowering crime rates is to prevent crime. One way is to ensure there are more resources on the border. The notion that officials at the border have to call someone 400 kilometres away to take action speaks to the lack of logic in the government's action.

Why is the government doing something that would further inflict problems--

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. I will have to stop the member, but he will have eight minutes to conclude his period of questions and comments at some later time.

New Brunswick Senior Baseball Championship
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today to salute the Chatham Ironmen on winning the New Brunswick senior baseball championship for 2011. The team defeated the Fredericton Royals in a 3-2 thriller to take the best-of-seven series four games to two. This is the Chatham Ironmen's 10th provincial title, and all in Miramichi are so proud of the team. It will now represent the province of New Brunswick at the senior nationals in Prince George, B.C., in August 2012. Also, Miramichi can be proud of having both the senior and junior Ironmen as baseball champions for 2011.

Congratulations to all the players for an excellent season, with special mention of Greg Morris, long-time coach; Daryl Matthews, manager; Ronnie Hardy and Terry Leggatt, assistant coaches; and Ronnie McCormack, trainer, as well as the fans and volunteers.

Good luck in British Columbia, boys. Go, Ironmen, go.

Steel Industry
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is perhaps no greater evidence of the government's failure on the economy in communities across the country than the silent steel mill of the former Stelco in Hamilton.

When the government approved this takeover by U.S. Steel, a promise was made to protect jobs. We see exactly the opposite happening.

Hundreds of families are losing a breadwinner, and economic hardship is being felt by families throughout the region because the government has failed to act to ensure that U.S. Steel keeps its word. Nine hundred Stelco workers have been locked out for nearly a year because the government is refusing to do what it takes to make companies live up to their commitments. These workers and Stelco pensioners are being held hostage by Stelco because of the government's bad deal.

EI benefits will soon run out. The government must do what is right and extend these benefits and, most importantly, push the company to keep its word. New Democrats stand in solidarity with U.S. Steel workers and with the community. We will continue to speak out until the locks are removed and the workers are able to get back to work.

William George Lesick
Statements By Members

September 22nd, 2011 / 11 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, we pause today in tribute to a former member of the House of Commons who recently passed away. Born in Alberta of immigrant Ukrainian parents, this man contributed to his province and to his country with great distinction in a way that can be best described as truly honourable.

He served Canada in World War II in Europe, helping liberate Holland with the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards. He owned and managed the Beverly Pharmacy. He was elected and served as member of Parliament for Edmonton East and then served as citizenship judge. As a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Norwood Branch, he chaired the Remembrance Day parade at the Beverly cenotaph for many years.

William George Lesick was a war veteran, a member of Parliament, pharmacist, judge, recipient of the Queen's Jubilee Medal and friend. Bill Lesick, respected for his service to his country in war and peace, will be greatly missed by his family and his many friends.

We will not forget.

Library of Parliament Research Branch
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, through retirement we are losing one of the best from the Library of Parliament's research branch. John Christopher has provided distinguished service to senators, members of the House, and a variety of parliamentary committees for more than four decades.

John's special expertise was on a full range of transportation issues. I cannot even imagine the number of transport committees and topics he has attended to: the Crow rate, the WGTA, railway reviews, airlines, air transport strikes, shipping. If we just name it, he has seen it all.

From a personal perspective, John's service to the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group was beyond the call of duty. His research, advice and documentation of cross-border issues has been superb. His calm presence and cordiality were greatly appreciated by legislators of both countries.

On behalf of us all, a sincere thanks for a job well done.

Canadian Wheat Board
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Wheat Board issue is a rights issue. When the Canadian Wheat Board was established 90 years ago, it was created respecting the right of farmers to choose to market their grain through the board or not. There was no monopoly. This right was removed in 1942-1943 under the War Measures Act to get cheap grain to feed the war effort in Europe. Sadly, this monopoly was not removed after the war ended. It is unbelievable but true.

Justice was restored years ago for farmers in eastern Canada, but not the west. Our Conservative government is about to change that and will reinstate the fundamental rights of western wheat and grain farmers by ending this monopoly. The Wheat Board will be returned to its original form, which is that of a marketing agency that farmers can choose to use or not.

No one else should choose for western farmers, and from now on, no one will.