House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was epilepsy.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to continue my remarks on Bill C-10, as returned from the Senate by way of amendment.

I had an opportunity on Tuesday to address a number of important points and concerns that had been raised about the consequences of Bill C-10. Today I want talk about some of the issues raised by experts who came to our committee. I will speak specifically to the concerns in relation to the consequences of this legislation on aboriginal people. We are increasingly aware of Canada's failure in that regard.

We recently passed a resolution in the House to grant equality of funding for aboriginal education. One would wonder why in the 21st century a country like Canada would have to do that. The New Democrats brought forth a motion which thankfully was unanimously accepted. However, the concerns that were raised there have also been raised in relation to the state of justice for aboriginal people in Canada.

Mr. Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator, gave a presentation to the committee on the consequences of Bill C-10.

He stated:

Some of the amendments will almost certainly have disproportionate impacts on Canada’s more marginalized populations, including aboriginal peoples, visible minorities, those struggling with addictions and substance abuse problems, and the mentally ill. Indeed, nearly all of the growth in the correctional population over the past decade can be accounted for by these groups.

That is a very strong statement. As we know, in Canada the crime rate is going down. We have the lowest crime rate since 1973, in almost 40 years. At the same time, we have an increase in the prison population, most of which Mr. Sapers said is accounted for by our more marginalized populations, including aboriginal peoples, visible minorities, those with addictions and substance abuse problems, and the mentally ill. That is a very strong indictment of the failure of the Canadian system when it comes to aboriginal people.

We have astonishing statistics on the number of aboriginal people who inhabit our prison system. Canada has a population of aboriginal people somewhere around 3.75% or 4%, yet 21% of our prison population is made up of aboriginal people. If we look at the federally incarcerated population alone, 2.8% of the Canadian population accounts for 18% of the federally incarcerated population. Therefore, we have six times as many aboriginals serving federal time, when compared to the population.

Some would say that must be because they commit more crimes and they should go to jail. That is a simplistic response. The first nations groups and people who work in the north say it is a failure of the system that puts them there. The proven way to deter crime is to resolve child poverty issues, provide treatment for mental health and addictions, deal with particular disabilities such as fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, and provide preventive programs in our communities. That is the way to decrease the number of people who are subject to incarceration.

As the Canadian Bar Association, Yukon branch, said in a release in February, these programs are the ones that help. The effect of Bill C-10 would be to put more aboriginal people in jail. Instead of having the opportunity to take advantage of conditional sentences, they will be away from their communities where rehabilitation, reintegration and all of the services that Correctional Services can provide take place.

There is a big consensus, for example, in the north and the Yukon among the RCMP, the court services, crown prosecutors, defence counsel, judges and wellness court, to try to deal with the healing of people who have serious problems, to try to divert them from a prison system that cannot help them very much.

We have a disconnect between what the government says when it calls it the safe streets and communities act and what the Canadian Bar Association of the Yukon says, which is that we have some of the safest streets in the Yukon, in Canada and in the world. It is not an issue of safe streets. It is an issue of whether or not our policies would achieve the goal that was proposed.

I had a meeting yesterday with representatives of the Canadian Association of Police Boards, who are very closely associated with policing in Canada. They raised their concerns about what Bill C-10 would do to youth justice, and to young people at risk, aboriginal people who are overrepresented in our prison population and those who are mentally ill.

We have a significant problem. The research, according to a brief presented by the Canadian Association of Police Boards to the Senate quoting the correctional investigator, says that the federally incarcerated population in Canada actually declined from 1996 to 2004 by 12.5%. We would see that go up again and we know that. We would be building prisons with provisions for double bunking. This has been condemned by the Correctional Services of Canada Union, experts, international standards and the correctional investigator himself.

We have had a decline from 1996 to 2004, but at the same time, the number of first nations people in federal institutions actually increased by 21%. The number of incarcerated first nations women during that period increased by 75%.

That is how we are dealing with the problems of our aboriginal population. They have problems for very significant reasons. It is not because they are more criminal than the rest of the population, but because they are marginalized and disadvantaged in our country.

Aboriginal youth are overrepresented among criminalized young people. According to the Canadian Association of Police Boards, aboriginal young people are criminalized and jailed at earlier ages and for longer periods of time than non-aboriginal young people.

The correctional investigator made a number of recommendations which have been supported by the Canadian Association of Police Boards. The correctional investigator considers that, “in light of Bill C-10, the aspect of new and increased mandatory minimum sentences and removing the discretion of judges will make aboriginal people's overrepresentation in the criminal justice system much worse”.

As an example, and members opposite who represent this area would be startled to know, aboriginal people already represent approximately 80% of inmates in institutions in the Prairies. This is from a population of less than 3% of the population of Canada. The Canadian Association of Police Boards says that Bill C-10 will further increase aboriginal representation in jail. It is astonishing.

Aboriginal youth comprise the majority of the population in jails and are overrepresented. However, Bill C-10 would have more aboriginal youth in custodial centres before trial. Our youth at risk require intervention support services to prevent ongoing criminal behaviour rather than detention.

I do not think the Canadian Association of Police Boards can be accused of somehow being in league with the criminals. The Conservatives can say what they want about us. We have broad shoulders and do not take them too seriously. I hope that the Canadian population is sensible enough to realize that is just the mouthing off of people who do not look at the evidence, do not listen to the experts and do not really seem to want to understand the effects of what they are doing.

That is what the Canadian Association of Police Boards representatives have said. They are from all over the country. Yesterday, in my office, there were representatives from Calgary, Vancouver and Cape Breton. It is a very broad body that is in touch with communities. In British Columbia, for example, all city mayors are represented through the police boards in their communities. It is not a research body. It is a group that is active and in touch with policing in our communities, cities and provinces. It is astonishing that when a group like that has something important to say about the consequences of what the government is doing, the government does not listen.

The Canadian Association of Police Boards is very worried about mental health in this country and the fact that police are being used as the front line instead of treatment. The first encounter with the system is through a police officer and not a mental health worker or some form of help. It is not that the police are there to hurt people, but for a person who needs help because of a mental health problem, the first encounter with the system ought not to be with a police officer who has a different role in society than that of a mental health worker.

The Canadian Association of Police Boards is very concerned. It quotes an article on the criminalization of mental illness that was published by the Canadian Mental Health Association. There was also a report on mental illness in Canada that talked about the prevalence of mental illness. However, the criminalization of mental illness was identified by the Canadian Mental Health Association in a report in March 2005. It said that research revealed that a person with mental illness was more likely to be arrested for a criminal offence than a non-ill person. It also talked about the factors related to that. It is estimated that the number of people with untreated mental illness in the criminal justice system ranges from 40% to 50% of those incarcerated.

Therefore, when we are talking about being tough on crime, we are talking about being tough on people who are aboriginal youth or have a mental illness. They are overwhelmingly the new population in our prisons. When I talk about mental illness, I am also talking about people with addictions who are suffering as a result.

We need a very different approach than what is being presented by the government. It has nothing to do with an attitude towards criminals. I think all of us would agree that those who commit serious crimes ought to be responsible and accountable for their behaviour. We do not want to see criminals go free, but we want a country where we respond to what needs to be done to ensure that these criminals do not reoffend.

I was telling someone the other day that I would feel safer if the person who broke into my house had something better to do than break into my house. I would feel safer knowing that if the person went to jail he or she would be out again in some period of time. I would feel less safe if that individual was not a better citizen once he or she got out of jail. I would be a lot safer if rehabilitation programs and preventive programs were in place. I would be a lot safer if there were a true response to the needs of our society so that people were not in those circumstances. It is unfortunate that no one listens to that.

I talked about the percentage of aboriginal people in our jails. I have a chart that shows that 3% of the people 18 years and older are aboriginal and 22% of the provincial and territorial sentence to custody adults are aboriginals, which is seven times as many. Twenty-five per cent of the population of Yukon is aboriginal and 75% of the inmates in provincial institutions in Yukon are aboriginal. That is deplorable. It speaks to the fact that prevention is not helping enough. We have taken a punitive approach instead, which will get worse.

Judges need to ensure that people who come in contact with the law are focused on accountability, that they recognize that they deserve to be penalized for what they have done and that the system wants to see them become productive members of society.

In some parts of the country we have a strong culture of restorative and Yukon is one part. Other provinces have developed an active working of restorative justice where the individual who commits a crime is expected to, if possible with the victim, acknowledge and be aware of the effect of the crime on the victim. The individual needs to recognize the fact that the victim lost something as a result of the crime. The individual needs to recognize that he or she has a role to play in ensuring that the damage done is ameliorated. Members on the other side talk about victims all the time but they do not talk about that. I think victims respond to that. They want justice.

There are extreme cases but we cannot make one law for everything based on extreme cases. There are extreme cases where there obviously is no possibility of any restorative justice or reconciliation. The most we can hope for is acceptance and peace when someone has lost a loved one through an egregious murder or something as senseless as a drive-by killing. These crimes make no sense at all and are very hard to understand. We sympathize with victims in those circumstances.

We want to ensure that those who commit crimes that involve the loss of life, the loss of someone's loved one, a deliberate, premeditated murder pay a severe penalty. We have had horrendous examples of serial killers in Canada but that, thankfully, is not the norm. We can see by the crime statistics that it certainly is not the norm. In fact, it is likely that more violent crimes were committed in the past than are committed today. We need to ensure that proper justice is done for individuals in those cases.

We also need to recognize that our system is moving toward incarcerating people who are stuck with addictions, who are suffering from mental health issues, aboriginals who may be suffering from a disability related to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or youth at risk who need better education.

If we look at one issue alone, the aboriginal population in Canada is seriously undereducated. We can make up all kinds of reasons for that but one of them is consistent, persistent underfunding of aboriginal education in Canada by the Government of Canada.

There were a lot of people, young people in particular, getting involved in the Shannen's dream movement. What did she want? She wanted a safe and comfy school. This was a 14 year-old asking if she was not entitled to that because she was aboriginal. Unfortunately, that has been the reality for far too many aboriginal students in Canada.

Where does that leave them when do not have a proper school to go to? They drop out of school and, therefore, do not get an education. They have no opportunities. They end up being what the justice system calls youth at risk and they end up in jail. We just went through some of the statistics. They are then in jail with other young people, which may be far away from their community. They have gone down the wrong road. What are we doing? Are we recognizing that we have a serious problem that needs a different solution?

The Government of Quebec came to Ottawa and showed what it had done over the last 40 years. It has emphasized rehabilitation. The justice minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, spoke with great passion when he looked around the room and said that when he was talking about the Youth Criminal Justice Act he was not dealing with people who had the same opportunities as our sons and daughters. He said that he was dealing with people who were dealing with situations.

He did not talk about aboriginal Canadians very much, but about people who had a very different situation than the children of the people in that room. The room contained members of Parliament, staff of the House of Commons and reporters who were looking on, all of whom were in a better position to provide for their children in terms of a safe, warm home, proper education, extracurricular activities, opportunities for parents to keep an eye on them and to help them if they go astray, and to provide guidance to them. Those were not the people he was dealing with in the youth criminal justice system. He was dealing with people who did not have those opportunities or advantages.

He said that the Quebec justice system tries to save them from a life of crime and that it does that by taking an approach that it has taken for 40 years. He said that Quebec has consistently shown over the last number of decades to have the lowest rate of recidivism in all of Canada for its youth criminal justice system. No one questioned that, not even government members on the committee.

The minister talked about ending the revolving door of going in and out. That is what recidivism is. Recidivism is when people get out of prison and then go back in. The minister's idea is to close the door when they are inside so there will not be any revolving door. What will that do? It will lengthen the incarceration for young people and, when they get out, because they will get out, they will not be rehabilitated. They will not have the opportunity to be better citizens.

If we look at what has happened in Quebec, there is a model that could have been ceased upon by the government and tried. We will not guarantee success but let us try to replicate that in Alberta, in Yukon, in British Columbia, in Manitoba and in the Northwest Territories.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:25 a.m.

An hon. member

Nunavut.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Yes, in Nunavut and in Newfoundland and Labrador. We should try to replicate that model so we are not just seeing one province lead the way. We should all have an opportunity to lead the way.

I know I have taken up a lot of time in the House and I appreciate the encouragement to continue. I see the government House leader encouraging me with his nods and smiles. I could continue because there is a lot to talk about this legislation, but I know there are other members in the House who may wish to participate in this debate. I did have unlimited time and I was not threatening to use it all, but now that we have time allocation I see that the more time I speak it will actually be taking away from other members. I know some of my colleagues wish to speak and perhaps we will have some questions and comments from the other side.

I know we have another couple of hours today under the time allocation, which is a shame because this seems to be a real opportunity. We know it has gone through the Senate, through the House and the politics of the matter. We had a little dust up about that Wednesday afternoon when the government's plans for the public relations tour on Wednesday was sidetracked. The minister went out with Sheldon Kennedy, who is a fine man, a great hockey player and a great role model for young people. In fact, I think he is a hero to people who are victims of child sexual abuse.

I know very much about that. I spent seven or eight years in the 1990s working with the victims of the Mount Cashel Orphanage sexual abuse scandal. I represented them on the civil side trying to get redress and compensation for what happened to them. In that process, I was very much involved in trying to assess the damage to their lives as a result of being sexually abused as a child. They went through the criminal process and I was there with them. I was an observer and even that process was excruciating because they were testifying. They had to not only testify but be cross-examined by people who were denying that they actually did it. It was very traumatic.

During that period, I came to know what post-traumatic stress disorder was. We all kind of know now because of what we have been hearing about soldiers, so it is now a known quantity, but in the 1990s it was hardly known. It just barely made it into the last edition of what is called the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders put out by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-III contained this information and the DSM-IV expanded on PTSD.

Mr. Kennedy had not come out publicly then. The young men who had been at Mount Cashel were at the Hughes Inquiry in late 1989. The people I represented there very bravely talked about what happened to them. I am very familiar with what these victims went through. I met Mr. Kennedy when he testified before our committee. We, along with others, wanted to ensure that victims of child sexual abuse were respected and that perpetrators of these type of crimes were dealt with severely by the courts, and indeed they were. In the case of the perpetrators of the Mount Cashel sexual abuse incidents and crimes, they were treated extremely seriously by the court. In fact, far more seriously than the mandatory minimums that are contained in this legislation.

I want to say again for the record if it needs to be said, which it should not but apparently for the minister it does, the Minister of Justice repeated on Wednesday that somehow or other the members on this side did not want the perpetrators of sexual assault to be treated seriously by our courts. That is the kind of mythology the minister likes to perpetrate, which is why this debate is important. People get a chance to hear where we are coming from on this issue. It allows us to repeat what we did in the House last year.

Let us take the part that deals with child sexual offences, with the new offences of Internet luring, with the new offence that could be called grooming of potential victims out of the bill. Let us deal with the more controversial stuff in committee and see if we can improve it, but let us take that out of the bill, give it a fast track and put it in place.

I say to Mr. Sheldon Kennedy and anybody out there who is sympathetic to Mr. Kennedy and victims of sexual assault, as I am, that we had an opportunity to do that last fall. The government not only failed to take up the offer but it took the position that we were wasting time by even bringing it up, that this was a delaying tactic. It is very amusing when one seeks to fast-track something through a motion in the House, government members say it is a delaying tactic. Did they listen to what I was saying, or are they on a message track of some sort because they think all we do over here is try to delay things?

Instead, we were trying to fast-track that legislation because we believe that as soon as the legislation passed, there would be an opportunity to prevent more serious crimes from taking place. Internet luring was being made easier to prosecute, as well as the so-called grooming of or showing children sexually explicit materials, which is a step we are told takes place as a way to soften a potential victim before a meeting is arranged. We would actually be preventing sexual assaults by passing that. We were anxious to see that happen, but the government saw that as a delaying tactic.

I will leave you, Mr. Speaker, and those watching to judge whether something like that would be considered a delaying tactic or a responsible attempt to try to do what we could to prevent further victimization of potential victims of sexual assault. I know how devastating it can be to a young person and a young person's life. I will not go into all of the consequences, but they are legion, and are hard to fathom and difficult to overcome.

I know there will be an opportunity for some questions and comments, but I would like to end my remarks with an amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint their Honours that the House disagrees with the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-10, An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts because relying on the government to list states which support or engage in terrorism risks unnecessarily politicizing the process of obtaining justice for victims of terrorism.”

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The amendment is in order.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Etobicoke North.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member made a passionate speech and raised the issues FASD and mental health.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, is caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol and the cost per individual per year is estimated at $21,000, and in Canada $5 billion per year. The children have trouble in school. As they become adults, FASD does not disappear but translates into ongoing problems with respect to family relationships, employment, mental health and justice conflicts. The person may not understand the arrest and court process and may not be able to comprehend the severity of the situation. The ability to follow through may be compromised because of memory deficits.

Could the hon. member outline what other challenges people with FASD may have with the justice system?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member for Etobicoke North has raised a very important question. Because of her own education and knowledge of the system, I know she is very aware of some of the difficulties that not only people with FASD but others face in our system.

The member mentioned the cost of $21,000 per year for assisting an individual with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The cost of incarceration is in excess of $100,000 a year. It is very disappointing that the government does not recognize that if we doubled the amount of support for people with FASD instead of spending five times as much incarcerating them, we may go a lot further in ensuring that the lives of people with FASD can be made more positive and that they can be better contributing members of society. There are organizations and communities that are very supportive, particularly in the north, which we would like to see funded rather than treating these people as criminals and incarcerating them.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw the hon. member's attention to a program called Wapikoni Mobile, which has been around for a number of years. It is a mobile studio that goes from one first nations community to another and works with aboriginal youth to help them develop basic skills and teach them things like how to work together and follow a schedule. This helps them to integrate into society. Unfortunately, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada recently reduced its subsidies by about half a million dollars, and the program's survival is now threatened.

Does the hon. member agree with me that it is better to invest in such a program than it is to spend all that money on a bill like Bill C-10, which will simply serve to send more people, many of them aboriginal people, to prison?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, again this is an example of the kinds of programs that are going to be crowded out in terms of funding. More money is going to be spent by the governments of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and every government in the country to incarcerate people at a cost that seems to be north of $100,000 a year. We are talking about a half a million dollar program. That program will be cancelled. That would cover the cost of five aboriginal people being locked up for a year.

Is that good management of public funds? Is that decent? Is that humane? Is that a proper kind of government that we aspire to in this country? No, it is not.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:40 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, earlier in his speech, the member for St. John's East made reference to the international effort for the legalization of cannabis. I want to emphasize that four of the last five mayors of Vancouver and former premier Mike Harcourt have made the same plea, that in an effort to stop wasting the resources of law enforcement, we ought to take the advice of experts and move in the direction of legalization as opposed to increased incarceration.

My question for the hon. member relates to what I regard as the fundamental matter before the House at this moment. As members of Parliament we have taken an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada. Each of us has taken an oath to uphold the Canadian Constitution. In the case of Regina v. Smickle, the Ontario Superior Court has ruled that these mandatory minimums offend the charter and are likely unconstitutional. It seems to be beyond our ability to grasp that we are passing a law that is in itself illegal.

Does the member have any comments on that problem, for each of us as individual members?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:45 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has raised a novel question as to whether or not there is some question of an oath.

I am saying this as someone who is a lawyer, as is the hon. member. I have read most of the case of Mr. Smickle. It is a rather unfortunate set of circumstances. It is also potentially a unique law where if the Crown prosecuted by summary conviction, the maximum sentence was one year, and if the Crown prosecuted by indictment, which it did, the minimum sentence was three years. There was no possibility of any sentence between one and three years. The Crown was the one that made the decision, not the court, not the judge.

I am not a fan of mandatory minimum sentences, although we did support that in the case of sexual offences because of the national consensus on that. We may have to look again at the aboriginal solutions within communities for that, but we supported that.

I do not think the court said that all mandatory minimum sentences were unconstitutional. That court is a court of first instance.

I do not think, despite what debate we might have about it, that we are somehow bound by our oath not to vote against it. I will certainly be voting against any aspect of Bill C-10. I do not know if we can say the members opposite are voting against something that is definitely constitutional. The member for Mount Royal has said that much of it is constitutionally suspect, but that is really for the courts to decide.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
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10:45 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his very interesting speech.

I took particular note of his comments on the criminalization of aboriginal youth. This is one of the concerns of the Algonquin people in my riding, whether they are from Barriere Lake or Kitigan Zibi. They have spoken to me of their concerns about Bill C-10. They are particularly concerned about the fact that one of their traditions involves judging their own people. They would like to work to rehabilitate their own young people and find their own solutions. Does the hon. member have any idea how Bill C-10 would prevent them from doing so?

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10:45 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is from the riding of Pontiac. I could reflect on the name of his riding, the name of a great aboriginal person. It is reflected in the name of the member's riding and in our country.

I hear what the member is saying about how the Algonquins deal with accountability within their community. That is a tradition that ought to be respected, not only because it is a tradition and a solution that comes from the aboriginal community itself, but also because it is one that is more likely to work.

Let us assume that an aboriginal young person has committed a crime and the Criminal Code says that the crime deserves a certain amount of time in jail. The young person would be taken out of his or her community, would not have a conditional sentence, would not have a healing circle which might work for the young person, and would not be accountable to his or her own community in that the young person would be put in a jail somewhere else. I think that is wrong.

I do not think it will work. It is wrong for the reasons I have stated, but it is also wrong because I do not think it is effective and I do not think it will work.

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10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I propose to begin my remarks with my respective conclusion, which also frames the narrative of my intervention, and that is if, at the conclusion of this debate, we adopt Bill C-10, we will be adopting legislation that lacks an evidentiary basis in its pertinent particulars, that is constitutionally suspect, thereby violating our obligations and inviting further charter challenges while the costs remain unknown, thereby breaching our responsibilities for the oversight of the public purse while also burdening the provinces. If we adopt Bill C-10, we will increase prison overcrowding, also giving rise to charter concerns, while, again, not improving the safety of Canadians in any way.

Indeed, adopting the legislation would be a betrayal of the very mandate common to all parties in the House to which all we aspire, namely, ensuring safe streets and safe communities. We will end up, as I said when the bill was first introduced and must reaffirm again, with more crime, less justice, spiralling yet undisclosed costs, less rehabilitation for the offender, less protection for the victims and less safety for our citizens.

I have risen in the House on the bill before when time allocation permitted. I rose also in committee seeking to propose amendments at committee, again when time allocation permitted.

As has been pointed out, even today's debate would not have been necessary had the government simply read my amendments to the justice for victims of terrorism act when I first proposed them.

Simply put, it is as arrogant as it shocking that the government rejected opposition proposals out of pure partisanship rather than considering them on the merits. These Senate amendments, which the government rejected at committee only to attempt their reintroduction at report stage in the House, are themselves proof that the proposals were well-founded.

Let me be clear. I am pleased that the government changed its mind on the need for these amendments. However, government comments suggesting that the amendments when first proposed were imperfect and defeated for that reason, flies in the face of the evidence.

As I indicated in committee, I proposed these amendments to improve the justice for victims of terrorism act, a bill that I not only supported but felt was precedential and necessary to provide victims of terror the civil remedies in domestic courts against their terrorist perpetrators and against such terrorist perpetrators who have previously been shielded, and I would have accepted friendly subamendments at committee.

Yet the government had no such changes to offer. Indeed, the government did not say, “We agree with your amendments, but we want to change their form”. Rather the mocking response was, “Why are you wasting our time when we want to get this bill passed?”, adding, again, in a mocking tone, that only the government cared about victims and the opposition only cared about criminals, a mocking tone that has been repeatedly used in this debate, the whole underpinned by fear-mongering in complete disregard for the evidence and the truth.

Time does not permit for me to detail and document every defect of the legislation. Accordingly I propose to organize the balance of my remarks around the principal defects of the bill, which I remind the House were nine bills put together into one omnibus piece of legislation, and that is the first issue, which is the bundling of nine major pieces of legislation into one omnibus bill and imposing closure in both the House and in committee deliberations as if we were debating only one simple bill. This did not allow for the necessary and differentiated parliamentary discussion and debate, let alone the necessary oversight of the legislation, as required by Parliament in discussion and debate.

That is, in part, the reason we are having this debate today. The government insisted this whole thing had been debated before in a previous Parliament. Yet the government cannot point to a single page of Hansard wherein we discussed the bill that we are amending, the justice for victims of terrorism act. It simply was never considered in the House. Moreover, each separate bill needed individual consideration. Each amendment needed careful review. The government refused to do this and this was reason enough to reject this ill-considered legislation with its pre-emptive preclusion of any review of the legislation.

Second, even before the legislation was tabled, there was a serious problem of prison overcrowding, with some provinces already reporting prisons at 200% capacity. We know that overcrowding leads to more crime within prisons and outside prisons.

The U.S. supreme court has found that overcrowding of over 137% can constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Accordingly this legislation will only exacerbate the problem in Canada, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of the Constitution.

At a time when crime is falling, when the evidence does not warrant it, why are we going down a path that seeks to put more people in prison for longer periods of time and risking a situation where the courts will be forced to set people free because of such overcrowding? It simply does not make constitutional or policy sense. Moreover, in the legislation itself, the requirement that correction administrators use “the least restrictive measures”, again a matter of sound constitutional protection and policy-making, has been removed, generating yet another constitutional concern relative to incarceration.

Third, the Minister of Justice has an obligation to ensure that legislation comports to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, yet prison overcrowding and the attending risk of cruel and unusual punishment are not the only constitutional concerns in Bill C-10. The expert witness testimony identified a series of constitutionally suspect provisions, including: severe, excessive, disproportionate and prejudicial mandatory minimum sentences; vague and over-broad offences; undue and arbitrary exercise of executive discretion; unconstitutional pretrial detention issues invoking section 11 concerns; and intrusive privacy concerns, such as those enunciated by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

When I asked whether the minister would provide assurances that the legislation comported with the charter, a due diligence responsibility on the part of the minister, the minister repeated the mantra about the mandate and avoided a response to the question.

I will address mandatory minimum sentences more specifically later, but I must note that it is highly undesirable for us to be adopting legislation that puts in place a sentencing scheme which the courts themselves have recently found untenable. Should we not be prudent and wait for the courts to pronounce on matters before it prior to Parliament enacting legislation that presents an affront to our Constitution? This is but one example of constitutionally suspect legislation within Bill C-10.

As I said before, but it is worth repeating, we must consider legislation on its merits. We cannot enact unconstitutional legislation and then say, repeating the mantra, that these measures are necessary to protect safe streets and safe communities. We simply cannot justify bad or unconstitutional policies through the repetition of the mantra about a mandate.

Fourth, we must also raise the important issue of the cost of this legislation. The costs associated with these nine bills have not been disclosed, and when one of these bills was introduced during a previous Parliament, the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer determined that that bill alone would cost approximately $5 billion.

Canadians and Parliament are entitled to full disclosure and accountability. This lack of disclosure represents not only a denial of the public's right to know but also a breach of parliamentarians' constitutional responsibility to monitor government spending and taxpayers' money.

Since we last discussed this bill, another report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer was released. In the matter of constitutional sentencing alone, the report found that the federal government would bear additional costs of about $8 million and the provincial and territorial governments would bear additional costs totalling about $137 million.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I hate to stop the hon. member there, but it is just about time for statements by members. He will have ten and a half minutes to conclude his remarks at the end of question period.

At this point we will move on to statements by members. The hon. member for Simcoe—Grey.