House of Commons Hansard #22 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please.

I must give the hon. member 30 seconds to respond.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Madam Chair, it is rather interesting that when all these bills were put forward to this House, our colleagues opposite had the opportunity to support them on an individual basis and chose not to, so I find it very curious that now, when we try to pull it together as one comprehensive bill, the member takes a separate view.

My Cape Breton mom once said about politicians, “After it's all said and done, there's a lot more said than done”.

It is now going to stop.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to join the debate on Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act. I have been very glad to see the vigorous debate that has taken place in this House over the past few days and, of course, over 79 hours of debate in the previous Parliament.

As we know, the safe streets and communities act is a piece of comprehensive legislation, a piece of comprehensive legislation that is made up of nine separate bills. I have heard my hon. colleagues from the opposition question the rationale of bundling this important piece of legislation together, so I would like to speak to that point.

Since taking office, our government has made no secret of the fact that we will stand up for the safety and security of Canadian families. We have been clear that we will ensure that victims are heard and that victims are respected. We have been clear that dangerous criminals belong behind bars and not in the streets, where they can harm law-abiding Canadians.

The safe streets and communities act, and every piece of legislation within it, is about fulfilling those commitments to Canadians.

This is not the first piece of comprehensive legislation that our government has introduced. We were proud to have delivered the Tackling Violent Crime Act back in 2008, an act that has now been law for some period of time.

Members will recall that the Tackling Violent Crime Act strengthened the Criminal Code in a number of ways. It delivered tougher mandatory jail time for serious gun crimes; it established new bail provisions, which require those accused of serious gun crimes to show why they should not be kept in jail while they are waiting for trial; it protected youth from adult sexual predators by increasing the age of protection from 14 to 16 years of age; and it ensured more effective sentencing and monitoring to prevent dangerous, high-risk offenders from offending again and again and again. It also made new ways to detect and investigate drug-impaired driving, as well as stronger penalties for impaired driving.

Much like the safe streets and communities act, all of the provisions had been pieces of previous legislation that had been blocked in political games by the oppositions prior to 2008. However, our party and our government believed so strongly in this action that we did what was in the best interests of Canadians: we bundled them into a comprehensive package known as the Tackling Violent Crime Act. On top of that, we made that act an issue of confidence in this House.

Now we find ourselves, after the May 2 general election, in a similar position with Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act.

As we know, this past spring Canadians gave us a strong mandate to move forward with our law and order agenda. As part of the Conservative election platform, we made a commitment to move quickly to reintroduce legislation that had been blocked or opposed by the opposition.

It has always been a point of pride that this government delivers on the promises we make to Canadians. That is why we have done as we have promised and why we are here today debating the safe streets and communities act.

Now I would like to talk a bit about the principle of protection of society.

What exactly does that mean? In short, it means that when courts and government officials are making decisions, the first thing they would now consider is how those decisions would affect the greater society.

It may come as a surprise to many Canadians that when it comes to the transfer of offenders, the protection of society is not currently the principle of consideration. We are currently in a situation in which the Minister of Public Safety is compelled to look at a number of factors when considering whether a prisoner should be transferred back to Canada. In fact, currently, the minister is restricted in the considerations that can be taken into account when he is looking to transfer offenders.

Bill C-10 would change that. This bill provides additional factors that the Minister of Public Safety may consider when determining whether to grant an offender's request to serve his or her sentence back in Canada. In doing so, it clarifies one of the key purposes of the International Transfer of Offenders Act, which that is to protect the safety of all Canadians. This would ensure that Canadians and their families are safe and secure in their communities and that offenders are held accountable for their actions. Canadian families expect no less.

Let me give members a few additional examples of what the minister could consider when considering whether an offender should be transferred back to Canada.

As examples, he could consider whether the offender is likely to endanger public safety, he could consider whether the offender is going to keep engaging in criminal activities, and he could consider whether the criminal would endanger the safety of Canadian children.

This legislation would also allow the minister to consider, among other things, whether the offender was co-operating with rehabilitation and local law enforcement, and whether the offender accepted responsibility for his or her actions. This means that when a minister makes a decision as to whether an offender is transferred back to Canada, he or she has the ability to look at a broad range of factors that go beyond what is simply in the best interests of the offender to ensure that protection of Canadian society comes first.

These proposed changes to the International Transfer of Offenders Act are among important changes contained within the Safe Streets and Communities Act. Others include better protection for our children and youth from sexual predators, increasing penalties for organized drug crime, and preventing serious criminals from serving their sentences in the comfort of their own living rooms by ending house arrest for serious crimes. It also would protect the public from violent young offenders and would eliminate pardons for serious crimes. It would increase offender accountability. It would support the victims of crime and would protect vulnerable foreign nationals from abuse and exploitation.

These are all measures in which our government strongly believes. We promised Canadians we would bring them forward swiftly after the election. That is why we have introduced the Safe Streets and Communities Act. It is also why we are hopeful that members of the opposition will do the right thing and support this important legislation.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member addressed the part of the bill that deals with the international transfer of prisoners. However, I know that the international community, particularly the United States, has spoken out against these measures since they give the minister too much power to determine whether a prisoner can be transferred. I would like the hon. member to comment on the international community's reaction in this regard.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, we can always listen to people across the world who comment on the laws and legislation we pass here in Canada, but the member might have noticed today that Canada was selected as the top nation in the world. People have a positive feeling about our country.

We can listen to what people around the world say, or we can listen to the victims of crime in this country. That is whom our government listens to. We are going to stand and fight to protect the families of this country.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the United States Supreme Court has declared that overcrowding in United States prisons to the extent of 137% results in conditions within the prisons that are cruel and unusual punishment. The overcrowding rate in prisons in British Columbia is now at 200%. This legislation is going to pack provincial institutions to a greater degree. Undoubtedly there are going to be charter challenges.

What measures does the government plan to take to deal with overcrowding in provincial institutions as a result of bringing in this law?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is important to remember that our government is investing in the expansion of federal prisons. We are also supporting our provinces with investments in their justice systems. No previous government in this country has done as much to invest and support the provinces in the area of justice as the Conservative Party of Canada has done.

We will continue to do that. We will continue to work with our provincial partners and ministers of justice across the country to make sure our communities and our people are safe.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I recently came across a report from the Department of Justice of the Government of Canada from January 2002. This expert report pans the idea of mandatory minimum sentences and concludes that it could be “a colossal waste of justice system resources”.

I know the government members always throw back at us that they are listening to the victims of crime and not all the experts, but surely they should listen to their own Department of Justice.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, we also listen to front-line law enforcement officials across this country, officials like union president Tom Stamatakis, who said:

Whether it is by keeping dealers and producers off the streets and out of business, or by serving as a deterrent to potential dealers, this proposed legislation will help our members in doing their jobs and keeping our communities safe. In simple terms, keep these criminals in jail longer, and you take away their opportunity to traffic in drugs.

We are going to continue to listen to our front-line law enforcement officers. They are the ones who are dealing with this every day. We are going to stand and support our police across the country.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the subject of overcrowding and double-bunking, I want to read something from Lyle Stewart of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers:

It raises the tensions in institutions where the tension levels are already very high. There's no question that it increases inmate-on-inmate violence, but it also increases the risk when correctional officers open the cell door. Often times that's when an inmate will choose to attack an officer, but now you've got two inmates in there.

Why does the government want to put correctional service officers at risk and in danger?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think we all owe a great debt of gratitude to those people who work in our prisons day in and day out rehabilitating criminals who are in there and protecting our people and keeping them safe.

I share the member's concern about making sure that we protect these very brave Canadians who work in our jail system. That is why our government is investing in an expansion of jails. I have two in my riding, one in my hometown of Truro and one in Springhill. We are investing in an expansion of both those prisons, making sure that we have enough personnel in those buildings and the physical space to make sure those people can conduct their jobs safely.

We are going to continue to invest in our prison system. We are going to continue to invest in the human resources, the people who work in the prison system.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to focus on a couple of aspects of Bill C-10.

Why has the government decided to bring in this bill at this time? It has a lot to do with propaganda. It has a lot to do with the government wanting to give the appearance to Canadians that it wants to be tough on crime. If the Conservatives really want to do Canadians a favour, they should get tough on the causes of crime or they should get tough on fighting crime. Bill C-10 would not result in less crime being committed on our streets or in our communities.

The government is trying to send a dated message to Canadians. It is a message that was tried many years ago in the United States. It was that right-wing conservative thinking which ultimately said that to beat crime, people had to be thrown in jail and kept there for a long period of time.

The jurisdictions that bought that argument built the jails and the jails exceeded capacity. Did it cause the crime rate to go down? No. If we compared some of the states in the deep south of the U.S. where megaprisons were built with states in the north, such as New York, we would find that the crime rate did not go down in the deep south. The jails did not help.

The Conservative government is convinced that the way to appease Canadians and to make Canadians think that their streets will be safer, is to bring in legislation that would foster more and bigger jails. The government would do far better in trying to make our streets safer so Canadians can sleep better at night by taking action to prevent crimes from taking place in the first place.

For a number of years I was the justice critic in the province of Manitoba. I have a good sense in terms of what works and what does not work. I have also served on youth justice committees as chair and as a layperson. I know there are many other things we could be doing that would have a far greater impact on preventing crime.

When I knock on doors in my constituency of Winnipeg North, I tell people that there should be consequences for crime. There is no doubt about that. If we are going to start getting tough, then let us start getting tough on fighting crime, on preventing some crimes from occurring in the first place.

How do we do that? In good part we do it by thinking outside the box. We do not even have to think outside the box; we could support some of the things that are out there right now.

How do we get young people, for example, to shy away from getting involved in gang activities? This is a serious problem in most of Canada's urban centres. It is a concern in the city of Winnipeg. Winnipeg is a beautiful city; I love it to death. There are all sorts of wonderful opportunities in Winnipeg. A vast majority of young people in Winnipeg are outstanding, but there is a certain percentage of youth who are being lured into activities that are not what I would classify as being of benefit to the community as a whole. There are some things we could do as legislators to improve the likelihood that those youth will not fall into the trap of prostitution, selling drugs, or getting involved in gangs.

I am interested in making sure that government policy allows us to deal with the issue at hand. The issue at hand is how to prevent crimes from taking place in the first place.

I have no love for pedophiles who commit these heinous crimes. I believe in consequences for those severe crimes. However, I do not necessarily buy-in to what the Americans were trying back 15 or 20 years ago. We will find that many of those strong Conservatives who advocated for the big jail concept no longer do. They have tried that experiment and it did not work. Now they are talking about how to get people back into communities and trying to develop other programs in order to prevent crimes in the first place.

One could talk about some of the bizarreness of the legislation. We have members who were officers of the law on the Conservative side who talked about the teeth in the legislation. Also, earlier today I made reference to a Winnipeg Free Press story on September 26. It is from Ethan Baron, a Vancouver columnist. He is not a member of Parliament and would be unbiased. I believe he is someone who would not likely have a party membership. The article states:

A pedophile who gets a child to watch pornography with him, or a pervert exposing himself to kids at a playground, would receive a minimum 90-day sentence, half the term of a man convicted of growing six pot plants in his own home.

For the member who canvasses his constituents and poses questions to them, I wonder what his constituents would have to say about that quote.

I do not question the fact that some aspects of Bill C-10 are positive. However, let us look at what is being proposed. It is a piece of legislation that I have never experienced in my many years inside the Manitoba legislature. There are many bills of substance in this one omnibus bill, but the Conservatives have told this chamber that we have a limited time to debate all of the bills. Their argument is that they have a mandate.

Of the 39% of Canadians who voted for them, yes, that is a mandate, and I know the Conservatives won the most seats. However, there is a thing called respect.

It is a privilege for all of us to be in this parliamentary precinct, the House of Commons. We should be respecting the fact that there is a responsibility for us to go through legislation in a timely fashion. However, this is not as if we are just putting the word “the” or “a” into these bills. These are all bills of great substance within Bill C-10. It is a lack of respect for this chamber for the Conservatives to try to force through Bill C-10 and then put a time limit on debate.

In this bill, the government has a grouping, but what is next? Are we going to see another bill making reference to 25 bills from the Conservative brochures in the last election? Would the Conservatives now have the support of Canadians and the mandate to have an omnibus bill that would include those 25 bills? Would they want us to pass those bills all in one omnibus bill?

The Conservative government needs to respect what is taking place today. For many of those backbenchers, this is the first time they have been elected to the House. As well, for many of the New Democrats, it is the their first time as members of Parliament. To what degree have they been afforded the opportunity to speak on what should have been separate bills?

The principle of this legislature is supposed to be all about that. We are supposed to be here to thoroughly debate and ensure there is accountability from the different ministers who would be responsible for those bills. Shame on the government for not recognizing the importance of democracy and not respecting the importance of this chamber in allowing members to have dialogue on this. If members want to sit 24 hours, 7 days a week, I am game if that is what they want to do. Why put in the limits? Why force members of Parliament to speak only ten minutes, which is barely enough time to address one bill?

I suggest the government would be best advised to break up the bill. It needs to look in the mirror and wonder if it has gone too far.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, there are two points I want to raise.

The first is the member opposite says that the government does not have a mandate to bring in this legislation because only 39% of Canadians voted for our Conservative government. When I look at the results of the last election in his riding, he got 35% of the vote in his riding. What mandate does he have to tell the House what we can or cannot bring forward?

We won 166 seats in the House specifically on a mandate to bring forward this legislation. Thirty-nine per cent of Canadians voted for this government. We have 166 seats and a majority government. Liberals have 34 seats. He got 35% of the votes in his riding. What mandate does he have to stand in the House and say that his constituents do not want this bill? He does not have that mandate. He has 35%.

There is another thing in his speech with which I take offence. He has suggested that somehow we can either be law and order, support the police, have prisons and tough laws or we can help kids on the other side and have some preventive justice. It is such a nonsensical, laughable argument that he makes, that it is a this or that proposition. The fact is we have put forward all kinds of proposals, policies and programs to support those who are at risk.

I will tell him about a project in my riding called S.U.C.C.E.S.S., which helps kids who are the most at risk, the most troubled kids in our society who live in my community and need some support and structure. These are kids who have a last opportunity to get some structure in their lives, some discipline and opportunity for growth. We funded that program, we built that program, and those kids are now moving forward in their lives.

It is not a this or that proposition, it is both, and we are getting it done with 39% of the vote, not 35%.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is what happens when a government sits in power a little too long. Having a majority now, it believes, in an arrogant way, that it can do whatever it is it wants. There is a moral, if not ethical, and some would suggest legal obligation, to respect the legislature and parliamentary law. There is the need to acknowledge that. Just because the Conservative government has the most seats does not mean that it is a little dictator. There is an issue of respect in allowing legitimate debate on important issues facing Canadians. Just because it has a majority does not mean it gets to dictate everything that happens in the country over the next four years, in a dictatorship way.

He posed a question with regard to programs. Believe it or not, the government has a finite amount of money and it has a choice. It can put x number of dollars here or x number of dollars there. If it puts more money over here, it means less money over there. We are suggesting—

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. The member for Winnipeg North will come to order. I am sure other hon. members want the opportunity to put a question or comment to the hon. member.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Newton—North Delta.