House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-10.

Topics

Statements by Members
Points of Order
Oral Questions

September 27th, 2011 / 3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In the course of question period today, you made a point of saying that someone could not do indirectly what he or she is not allowed to do directly.

In that context, Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you would take the time to have a look at Standing Order 31 in the name of the member for Vancouver South, which must have been approved by her whip, which must have been approved by the leadership of her caucus and which was a direct personal attack on the member for Scarborough—Agincourt and seemed to have gone unobserved by those who were listening to it.

I wonder if you would have a look at the record, Mr. Speaker.

Statements by Members
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will examine the transcript and get back to the House if necessary.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will go back to the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert, who has six minutes left to conclude his remarks.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, in my previous comments, I was talking about Bill C-10 and specifically the portion affecting the amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

On the old Bill C-4 from the last Parliament, the justice committee heard concerns from many of the provincial attorneys general concerning the issue of pretrial detention. I would remind the House that the primary concern of provinces with the approach of Bill C-4 was that pretrial detention would not be available to a youth charged with an offence that was not “a serious offence”.

The provisions in the current Bill C-10 address this concern. Under the proposed amendments, pretrial detention of a youth charged with a non-serious offence is possible if the youth has a history that indicates a pattern of either outstanding charges or findings of guilt and if the court finds that detention is necessary for the protection and safety of the public.

This change would allow for detention of so-called out-of-control youth who would pose a danger to society even if that youth were not presently before the court on a serious offence charge.

Moreover, the test for pretrial detention will be self-contained in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, without requiring reference to the Criminal Code provisions as is currently the case.

The second modification to the former Bill C-4 deals with the availability of the deferred custody and supervision order, which is a Youth Criminal Justice Act sentencing option that allows a young person who would otherwise be sentenced to custody to serve his or her sentence in the community under conditions. If those conditions are violated, the young person can be sent to custody.

Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, this order is not available as a sentencing option if the young person has been found guilty of a serious violent offence, currently defined in the act as an offence in the commission of which a young person causes or attempts to cause serious bodily harm.

The new narrower definition of a “serious violent offence” proposed in Bill C-4 would have expanded the scope of offences for which deferred custody and supervision orders would be available.

However, the provisions in the current bill include the new definition of “serious violent offence” and would also include a change to the amendments proposed in the former Bill C-4 in order to retain the current law on eligibility for these orders, meaning that a deferred custody and supervision order will not be available if the youth is found guilty of an offence involving either serious bodily harm or an attempt to cause serious bodily harm. I think members could agree with me that these modifications are an improvement over the former Bill C-4.

The third modification since Bill C-4 concerns the adult sentencing provisions in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The amendments to the former Bill C-4 and contained in this new bill would require a prosecutor to consider seeking an adult sentence for young offenders 14 and older who committed serious violent offences. Prosecutors would also have to inform the court if they decided not to apply for an adult sentence for individual 14 or older who were convicted of a serious violent offence. When the Crown would apply for an adult sentence, the onus would have been on the Crown to convince the judge that an adult sentence was justified.

In part these amendments respond to the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case of R. v. D.B. that certain provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act violated section 7 of the charter. These presumptive offence provisions placed an onus on a young person found guilty of certain serious violent offences to justify receiving a youth rather than an adult sentence and to justify the continued protection of their privacy.

The proposed amendments remove the presumptive offence provisions from the Youth Criminal Justice Act as well as other inoperative provisions to clarify the test for the imposition of an adult sentence and ensure that the onus is on the Crown to satisfy the court as to the appropriateness of an adult sentence.

In the former Bill C-4 the proposed test for an adult sentence would have required that a judge be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that an adult sentence was necessary. When we were consulting, a number of the provinces expressed the view that “beyond a reasonable doubt” was too high a standard to meet, was not required by the current case law and would make it significantly more difficult to obtain adult sentences in appropriate circumstances.

The current proposals remove reference to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that had been in the former Bill C-4, thus leaving it up to the courts to determine the appropriate standard of proof, as is the case under the current law.

I think all members of the House will agree that the amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act included in Bill C-10 are the result of the widespread consultations and respond to the concerns of Canadians. Our government listened to our provincial and territorial counterparts, to provincial attorneys general, Canadians and victims and have made the necessary changes to this part of Bill C-10.

I think all members can agree that the changes I have described and outlined for the House are reasonable and responsive. I encourage all hon. members to support all parts of Bill C-10.

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3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, one of the fundamental elements of this omnibus bill obviously deals with the issue of mandatory minimums as a deterrent. Would my hon. colleague justify how this is to be a deterrent when it comes to mandatory minimums?

We have examples where in certain jurisdictions around North America the death penalty exists, yet their capital offence rates are much higher than jurisdictions that do not have the death penalty in place. When we see situations like that, we have to wonder whether mandatory minimums do serve as that deterrent? Perhaps my colleague can convince me that this is the case.

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3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member had been listening to my speech, he would have know that I was talking specifically about changing amendments and provisions to the Youth Criminal Justice Act not to the minimum mandatory sentence provisions, which I suspect he might be referring to those who traffic in cannabis and other controlled substances.

However, notwithstanding the lack of relevance of the question toward my speech, I will attempt to answer it. Certainly, there are no provisions anywhere in Bill C-10 dealing with death sentences, nor ought there to be in my view.

Minimum mandatory sentences in appropriate circumstances do deter crime for one very simple proposition that appears to be lost on most members of the opposition, and that is an individual when incarcerated cannot commit further crimes.

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3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government has introduced the safe streets and communities act as if the very title alone validates the legislation. It is presented to us as it is called res ipsa loquitur. The very title speaks for itself. If there is any doubt, the government repeats the mantra, as it is done over and over today, that it has “a mandate” for enacting the safe streets and communities act.

Every government not only has a mandate but an obligation to protect its citizens. As a government, we too spoke of safe streets and safe communities in our speech from the throne. Five years ago, in debate in this very House, I spoke as follows:

Safe streets and safe communities are the shared aspiration of all Canadians and the common objective of all parliamentarians and parties. No political party can claim that it alone speaks or cares for the safety of all Canadians or that it alone is legislating for that purpose.

The question then becomes this. What are the means that are chosen to bring about what we have defined as a shared objective of all governments and all parties, namely safe streets and safe communities? For example, we cannot enact unconstitutional legislation and say “These measures are necessary to protect safe streets and safe communities”. Nor can we justify bad policy through the repetition of the mantra about a mandate. Legislation has to be examined on the merits.

Accordingly this omnibus legislation, taken as a whole, because there are certain bills within that I would support if the good and the bad were not bundled together, reminds me of Gresham's law, that the bad drives out the good. This type of omnibus legislation will result in more crime and less justice at exorbitant and still undisclosed costs.

I will summarize some of the principal defects of the legislation.

First, even before this legislation was tabled, and this appears to be overlooked by the government sometimes, there was a serious problem of prison overcrowding, with some provinces already reporting 200% capacity. We know overcrowding leads to more crime within prisons and more crime outside prisons. The U.S. supreme court has found that overcrowding of 137% can even constitute cruel and unusual punishment. This legislation will only exacerbate the problem in Canada, both as a matter of policy and arguably even as a matter of the constitution.

Second, we need to talk about cost. Not only do we not know how much all these measures will cost, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that just one part of this bill will cost $5 billion. Canadians and Parliament have the right to all of the figures.

Third, we need to consult the provinces and territories, which will be assuming these costs, to the detriment of services, and ensure that the focus is also on crime prevention and not just on crime and punishment.

Fourth, bundling nine major pieces of legislation in one omnibus bill would not allow for sufficient and differentiated parliamentary discussion and debate let alone oversight of the legislation. This is a constitutional responsibility of parliamentarians particularly with the spending this bill has though the costs remain undisclosed. In effect, it would serve to undermine the parliamentary process.

If we ask the Canadian people if they are in favour of protecting victims and of safe streets, of course the answer will be yes. The question is how to achieve that. This bill would not achieve that. Rather, it would make things worse.

Fifth, the omnibus bill is about principles and priorities. At its core it is about values. If we spend billions of dollars on building unnecessary prisons while crime is receding and putting more people in prison for longer periods of time, that money cannot be used to invest in: a social justice agenda, child care, health care, crime prevention, seniors or social housing. At the end of the day, we would probably have more crime and less justice as a result of this bill.

The evidence demonstrates that the use of mandatory minimum sentences such as would be expanded by this legislation would not deter crime and would have a differential discriminatory impact on vulnerable groups. I particularly highlight the differential and discriminatory impact it would have on aboriginal people, where 34% of all women inmates are aboriginal, and unduly circumscribes judicial and prosecutorial discretion.

As has been mentioned in this debate, even U.S. conservatives now regard it as a failed policy that has caused the prison population to skyrocket while creating expensive megajails that have effectively become factories of crime.

Finally, the manner in which debate is being limited is an abuse of the parliamentary process if not an abuse of the democratic process. In effect, we are being asked to inhibit discussion with our constituents and almost silence or shut them out of the debate. This prejudices members of Parliament from all parties.

The Minister of Justice said that this bill and the bills contained within it were before us in the previous Parliament. There are many current members of the House who were not members of the House in previous Parliaments. Why should they not have a right to discuss this legislation? Why should we not solicit their input? Why should they not be able to consult their constituents? In effect, that is an abuse of the democratic and parliamentary processes and prejudices the very objective this legislation seeks.

I would call upon the government to rethink and revisit its approach with respect to procedure, principle and policy. This sets a disturbing precedent regarding parliamentary procedure as well as a disturbing principle regarding a matter wherein it seeks to enact criminal justice policy.

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3:20 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I strongly disagree with the member for Mount Royal's substantive critique of the bill before the House. In my question I would ask him to address his complaints with respect to process.

I would emphasize that not only were the bills collectively given dozens of hours of debate in the previous Parliament, they were a central element in the electoral platform of the Conservative Party, which committed to passing these bills within 100 days of the resumption of a new Parliament.

For him to characterize the government maintaining its democratic commitment and executing its democratic mandate as somehow undemocratic denudes the term “democracy” of any meaning.

He said that all members should have an opportunity to debate. Of course we will have a debate. We will continue to have a debate on these matters. Every party and many dozens of members have spoken to the bill.

Let us be clear. The opposition will do everything it can to prevent the bill from passing. It is not interested in debate. It is interested in using dilatory tactics to prevent the adoption of the legislation, which is a core part of the government's democratic mandate.

He said that this is without precedent. I was in the opposition when his party invoked a time limit on debate dozens of times, so I think he is being a bit--

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. I will stop the member there to allow the member for Mount Royal a chance to respond.

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, the architects of prorogation do not have any lessons to give us about the protection of parliamentary procedure and protection of parliamentary debate.

The notion as the minister has put it that these bills were all public through their introduction in the previous Parliament is no less problematic than it is demagogy. Not all of these bills made it through full deliberation and debate in the House let alone in clause-by-clause consideration in committee.

More important, there are new MPs on his side of the House as well as on this side of the House who deserve to have the right to participate in a debate on these bills, which they will not have a chance to do, to discuss it with their constituents and not have the mantra thrown at them: we have a mandate.

We all have a mandate for safe streets and safe communities. The question is how to achieve that mandate. It will not be achieved through this procedure.

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3:25 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, in his speech the hon. member said that there are parts of the omnibus bill that the opposition agrees with. Would he tell us what the government could do with this omnibus bill if it were really interested in the security of victims and helping victims, if it were really interested in enforcing the laws of this country?

What could the government do to help speed up this omnibus bill?

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, one of the first things it could do is to unbundle this legislation and allow for a differentiated consideration of each bill on its merit.

For example, let us take the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and related amendments to the State Immunity Act, former Bill S-7. I myself introduced a private member's bill on this issue. I support this legislation in principle, though it could be refined by way of amendment with respect to the issues in my private member's bill. This will not even get to the floor for discussion and debate.

At the end of the day, we will have a bill that provides civil remedies for victims of terror. I support that and many members in the House would support that. However, it would not be as good or as effective a bill as it could be without a differentiated study of it.

Similarly, with respect to the Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act, we could discuss and even approve that kind of bill in a very short period of time.

I can go through all of this legislation. However, in a word I am saying "unbundle" the bill. Allow every piece of legislation to be considered on its merits. Some bills can be fast-tracked because we will find consensus in the House with respect to the principles and the policies of the bills. Others will be properly amended and improved for the sake of the public and criminal justice, generally speaking.

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3:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with much interest to the hon. members' contributions on Bill C-10. I am grateful to have the opportunity to join the debate.

As members know, in the spring of this year our government made a commitment that should Canadians give us their trust and return us to office we would swiftly reintroduce our legislation to make our families, streets and communities safer.

This bill includes a broad range of measures. It includes measures that crack down on drug dealers who target our children. It also includes measures to ensure that those convicted of a sexual offence against children will never be eligible to have their record suspended. It includes measures to get tough on violent young offenders. As well, it includes measures to increase offender accountability and provide stronger justice for victims.

There are several portfolios under which this legislation, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, falls. In addition to justice and public safety there is legislation in the bill that is part of strengthening Canada's immigration system. It is to those proposed changes that I would like to speak today.

Canada's immigration system is an important part of our identity, economy and society. I see these impacts every day in my great riding of Don Valley West. For those people who are applying to enter our country, Canada represents hope, safety and a new beginning. Unfortunately, some arrive here only to have their hopes and dreams shattered. For example, some temporary foreign workers are more vulnerable than others. We cannot turn our backs on them. That is why the Safe Streets and Communities Act includes measures that would prevent the trafficking, abuse and exploitation of vulnerable immigrants.

According to the provisions of Bill C-10, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism would have the authority to provide immigration officers with instructions for refusing a work permit. Instructions would be based on clear public policy considerations and would be supported by evidence that shows the risk of humiliating or degrading treatment. The instructions would not target specific work permit applicants directly. Rather they would apply to applicants of a particular occupation or a group of applicants who could be identified as vulnerable to abuse or exploitation.

The instructions would describe situations that could represent risks to an applicant and would set out the risk factors for officers to consider. They would also help define who would be considered vulnerable depending on the situation or context. For example, an individual applying to come to Canada as an exotic dancer might be refused a work permit because he or she may be vulnerable to abuse. However, the same individual might be granted a work permit if he or she applied to come to Canada to work in another occupation or a different situation that did not pose the same risk.

It is also important to note that this legislation only creates the legal authority to issue instructions. It does not establish any actual instructions. We anticipate that input from all members of the House will be forthcoming as these ministerial instructions are drafted. Their input is certainly welcome.

Without these amendments, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has no discretionary authority to deny a work permit to someone who meets all the requirements to enter Canada even if immigration officers believe there is a strong possibility of exploitation or abuse. The amendments we propose also include strong measures to ensure that the government is accountable for its use of the new authority. There will be accountability. Each time the minister issues instructions under the authority they must be published in the Canada Gazette. In addition, they must be published in Citizenship and Immigration Canada's annual report to Parliament.

Assessments by immigration officers would be made on a case-by-case basis and would take into account the public policy considerations set out in the ministerial instructions.

As I have already stated, these would need to be supported by evidence showing the risk of humiliating or degrading treatment. Furthermore, any decision by an immigration officer to refuse a work permit would need to be reviewed by a second immigration officer.

Canadians do not want an immigration system that can be used to victimize or exploit people. With this authority we can help protect vulnerable people from being brought into our country to face abuse and exploitation. Bill C-10 will protect the vulnerable from abuse.

Again, this action that would prevent the exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers is only one part of our comprehensive crime legislation that makes up the safe streets and communities act.

To recap, the legislation before the House would better protect children and youth from sexual predators; increase penalties for organized drug crime; end house arrest for serious crime, and thus prevent serious criminals from serving out their sentences from the comfort of their living rooms; protect the public from violent young offenders; eliminate pardons for serious crimes, such as sexual abuse against children; enshrine in law a number of additional key factors in deciding whether an offender would be granted a transfer back to Canada; support victims of terrorism; increase offender accountability and support victims of crime; and, as I have discussed here today, protect vulnerable foreign nationals against abuse and exploitation.

Parliament has already seen and debated a great deal of this legislation. None of it is a surprise. All of it is part of our important action to make Canada's streets and communities safer for law-abiding Canadians and their families.

We made a commitment to Canadians. Canadians gave us a strong mandate to follow through on that commitment, and that is what the safe streets and communities act is about.

I close by asking that the hon. members across the floor join our government as we work to keep Canadians safe by helping us to pass this important legislation.

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, there are two aspects of the crime bill that the hon. member did not appear to address in speaking about the bill.

One is that in the last Parliament, public prosecutors came to testify on the previous proposed provisions for mandatory minimum sentences for juvenile offenders. They testified that only 5% of all youth offenders are actually involved in violent crime and that it did not make sense to have a blanket approach to all youth offenders.

Second, there was a very sad incident in my riding this past summer. The alleged actions of someone who was mentally suffering caused the death of an elderly woman.

I would ask the member for his comments on the apparent rise in numbers of people with mental problems who are being sentenced for crimes instead of being re-routed before the crimes are committed, thus preventing the crimes. What is the response to that? Should we not be taking action to prevent people with mental problems from committing serious crimes, rather than jailing them?