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

12:50 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Edmonton—St. Albert made an excellent speech. He has done a lot of good work on this. I think I will use his speech when explaining this issue to my constituents. What we have heard from the NDP is the shameful rhetoric that the opposition parties are putting out on this very important bill.

I am a chiropractor, and I had many patients who were addicted to different forms of drugs. They told me over and over again to do what I can because it is a slippery slope, that people start taking drugs and once they are addicted it is extremely difficult to get off them. That is why we as a government are focusing on stopping people in the first place.

I was wondering if the member could take a few minutes to clear up some of the misinformation. I know that in my constituency of Oshawa people are listening to the rhetoric and saying that we are going to be putting in jail kids who are found in their basement with a couple of joints or a couple of marijuana plants.

Could he reiterate the facts so that other members of the House are able to communicate with their own constituents about this important issue?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

March 9th, 2012 / 12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health for his good work on the health files and for his interest with respect to addictions.

As I indicated, with respect to the production of scheduled drugs, such as cannabis and marijuana, which is what I think the member for Western Arctic was most concerned about, aggravating factors have to be present.

Those aggravating factors, as I indicated, would be that the person used real property that belonged to a third party to commit the offence; the production constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard to children who were in the location where the offence was committed or in the immediate area; the production constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area where the person placed or set a trap.

With respect to trafficking, often rental properties are converted into grow operations. When those grow operations are dismantled by law enforcement, or simply because of the amount of electricity and humidity that are required to grow cannabis--I have read about this; I do not have any direct experience--often there is serious damage to the drywall and often to the structural foundation. When there is damage to real property, that is an aggravating factor that causes the aggravating sentence provisions to kick in.

Just to clarify, possession is not punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence; it is possession for the purposes of trafficking.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleagues know, I represent a riding where there are three federal correctional institutions—a medium-security facility and two minimum-security facilities. One of the minimum-security facilities will be turned into a medium-security institution in the very near future. In these prisons, staff work hard to rehabilitate inmates to ease their re-entry into the community.

I will convey what the head of the federal training centre told me two weeks ago. Given that these people will get out of prison, he said that what is important to him is safety. He was thinking about the fact that the inmate could move in next to me and be my neighbour. Therefore, he tries to ensure that an approach that is more community-based and centred on social rehabilitation is used.

The question that I would like to ask my colleague is very simple. In 2010, the crime severity index, which measures the severity of crimes committed in Canada, reached its lowest point since its inception in the 1980s. I would therefore like to know why the government claims that its bill is needed now more than ever, when we would like to emphasize prevention rather than this type of bill?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, there are two aspects to the hon. member's very good question.

As I indicated in my comments, the part of the bill that deals with serious drugs is part of a national anti-drug strategy that has three distinct prongs: preventing illicit drug use, treating those with illicit drug dependencies, and combatting the production and distribution of illicit drugs.

I concur with the hon. member that individuals who are incarcerated because of their addictions need access to rehabilitative programs. The public safety committee in the last Parliament, as she might know, wrote a comprehensive report on drug dependency and rehabilitation programs that are available in the federal penitentiary system.

The second part of her question is actually more challenging, and that is the whole notion that crime is somehow on the decline. I have to concede that officially reported crime statistics as reported by Statistics Canada based on how it measures crime in fact show decreases. However, Statistics Canada also surveys Canadians on whether or not they have been victims, and victimization is way up. In any given year, over 25% of Canadians state that they have been a victim of crime. Happily, most of that is property crime, and is not as serious, but nonetheless, victimization surveys show that crime is up.

With respect to the notion that crime is somehow diminishing, that is only officially reported crime statistics. The reason is that the police have changed how they measure crime. For example, if an individual breaks into three houses on one night, that used to be counted as three crimes, but now it is counted as one. The bigger problem is that Canadians are so fed up with the justice system they are not reporting crime. Officially reported crime might be down, but crime is not down.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, today I rise in the House to speak to Bill C-10 and its amendments from the other house.

The bill is not one bill, it is nine pieces of legislation combined and repackaged into one bill that has been rammed through the House over the past month by the Conservatives. Instead of receiving a thorough review, Bill C-10 is being rushed through Parliament purely to meet the Conservatives' 100-day passage promise from the last election.

The bill was rushed through the House so quickly that the Parliamentary Budget Officer was unable to complete a cost analysis before the bill was sent to the Senate. When he did complete a partial analysis of the bill, he found that just one portion of the bill would cost provinces an additional $137 million per year and the federal government an additional $8 million per year. Therefore, the total cost would be $145 million per year for just one portion of this huge bill.

The cost per offender will skyrocket from $2,575 to $41,000, which is a sixteen-fold increase. This is a direct contradiction to what the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice have claimed in that there will be no additional cost to the federal government associated with this portion of the bill.

I have stood in the House and asked the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice to explain why they have failed to do an adequate costing for Bill C-10. I have asked them why they failed to study the impacts of Bill C-10 on the criminal justice system, on our crowded jails and our overwhelmed courts. I have asked why they have never bothered to figure out how much the bill would cost the provinces. I have asked them why they are ramming this reckless bill through, a bill that would actually do nothing to make our communities a safer place.

It will not surprise most members of the House that the Minister of Public Safety did not bother to answer any of these questions. Instead of answering critical questions about a reckless public safety agenda that was destined for failure, the minister seems to prefer to hurdle accusations and insults across the floor. He stood in the House and accused me of supporting child molesters when he knew very well that not only did New Democrats propose provisions in Bill C-10 to target child molesters in the first place, but we also offered to split out sections of the bill dealing with sexual offences against children, enshrining victim's rights in the parole process and fast-tracking approval for them. However, the Conservatives refused.

Sadly, we know that facts do not really matter to the Conservatives. They do not look at the statistics. In the Senate committee hearings on Bill C-10, the Minister of Public Safety told senators to ignore the facts. He said, “I don't know if the statistics demonstrate that crime is down. I'm focused on danger”.

This is not the first time we have been told to ignore the facts by the Conservatives. In response to questions about Bill C-10, the Minister of Justice said, “We're not governing on the basis of the latest statistics”.

The Conservatives do not believe in real facts that we get from Statistics Canada and other places. When it comes to public safety, their motto is “ignore the facts”. That seems to be in the Conservatives' talking points. The Conservatives want to ignore the facts because the facts are not on their side. The facts will tell them that the bill will cripple our criminal justice system and will not make our communities any safer.

The Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties association and many experts from across the political spectrum have urged the government to rethink the sweeping changes to the criminal justice system contained in Bill C-10. Provincial leaders are speaking out and they have come to the committee to make passionate speeches and pleas to the government. They have been clear that they are not ready to bear the cost of this prisons agenda. Nor do they agree with many of the measures contained in the Conservative bill.

The prisons agenda has already failed in the United States. We have seen examples of this in Texas, California and southern states, where the states basically were led to the brink of bankruptcy. We have seen governments in the states moving away from the same approach the Conservatives are proposing here in Bill C-10.

States like Texas are now abandoning the mandatory minimum and three strike policies that led to ballooning prison costs and prison populations. They have found these approaches have actually done little to prevent crime, but have done a great deal toward bankrupting states.

Canada should be learning from the mistakes of our neighbours to the south, not repeating them. We need practical solutions on crime that improve safety in our communities, not old strategies that are expensive and have proven to be failures.

I know my Conservative friends do not like facts and do not talk about them, but I will give some facts anyway.

The crime rate, since peaking in 1991, continues to decline. In 2010 police reported crime in Canada continued its downward trend. Both the volume and the severity of crime fell from the previous year down 5% and 6% respectively.

There were approximately 77,000 fewer police reported crimes in 2010 than in 2009. Decreases of property crime, namely theft under $5,000, mischief, motor vehicle thefts and break and enters, accounted for the majority of the decline. Police also reported a decrease in homicide, attempted murders, robbery and assaults. These are the facts.

The 2010 crime rate, which measures the volume of police reported crime, reached its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts. The crime severity index, which measures the seriousness of crime, dropped to its lowest points since the measure first became available in 1998.

Meanwhile in prison only about one in five inmates has access to programs such as anger management and substance abuse, according to Howard Sappers, the correctional investigator.

Canada has more people in pretrial custody than actually serving sentences at a ratio of about 60:40. Pretrial custody is at a provincial level.

Let us talk about the cost. The cost of the federal prison system has risen 86% since the Conservatives became government. When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, Canada's federal correctional system cost was nearly $1.6 billion per year, but the projected cost for this year, 2011-12, has increased to $2.9 billion, almost $3 billion per year. By 2013-14, the cost of the federal prison system will almost double to $3.14 billion, according to the department's own projections.

In 2010-11 alone, more than $517 million will be spent on prison construction. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a total annual average cost per prison cell has risen from $109,000 in 2000 to $162,000 in 2009-10. That is an increase of almost 48%. A single new low-security cell amounts to $260,000. A single new medium-security cell amounts to $400,000. A single new high-security cell amounts to $600,000.

The average annual cost per woman inmate was $343,810. The average total annual cost per male inmate in maximum security was $223,687. The cost per male inmate in medium security was about $141,000. The cost per male inmate in minimum security the cost is about $140,000. The average cost per inmate in a community correction centre was $85,000. The average cost per inmate on parole was close to $39,000.

The Conservatives have been upfront about the costs of their bills in the past. When asked about the cost of Bill C-25, which ended two-for-one credit for time served in pre-sentence custody, the Minister of Public Safety originally said that the price tag would be $90 million. Then he said it would be about $2 billion over five years. However, the Parliamentary Budget Officer ultimately found that the bill could double the annual prison costs from $4.4 billion to $9.5 billion in five years. That is a lot more than what the government is telling Canadians.

There has been no analysis or consultation with respect to the increased costs for enforcement or prosecution, which will be downloaded to the provinces. The provinces are already talking about the downloading of the costs of this crime bill that is being rushed through Parliament.

When I put all of this analysis together and I look at the struggling bill, I am faced with the sad reality that members opposite really do not care about the outcome and ultimately public safety.

In Surrey, where I come from, there are murders and gang violence. It is real, it is not just fodder for scoring political points. This is why New Democrats have called for more investment in front-line police officers and youth gang prevention programs. Instead, the Conservatives have cut those programs across the country and fail to fund new police officers.

People in communities like mine and across the country are left wondering why they are going to pay for a failed prison agenda.

I will be voting against the legislation. I ask members on the other side of the House to consider their communities, the people they are here to represent, and to vote against the bill. If I do not appeal to their sense of responsibility and perhaps compassion, then I hope to appeal to their logic or reasoning.

I can ask questions about the serious flaws in the bill. For example, Canada has more people in pretrial custody than actually serving sentences. These people are kept in provincial facilities, adding cost and burden to already overstressed court systems. Why is the government imposing more costs on the provinces without providing assistance to keep their systems afloat?

Mandatory minimums which remove judicial discretion are counterproductive. They can actually lead to judges giving lesser sentences than they might otherwise because they have to rely solely on the legislation as their sentencing guide. In particular, for cases like sexual assault, why is the government removing judicial discretion?

The mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana is more than that prescribed for child sexual assault. How is that logical?

Currently one in five inmates has access to programs like anger management and substance abuse. The bill would lead to even more crowded prisons, straining already thin resources for programs.

At the end of the day, 90% of inmates are going to be coming into our communities. They are going to be living in our neighbourhoods. We need programs that will help them to reintegrate into society so they do not reoffend and go through the revolving door about which the minister has talked. This is about public safety. How can the government put forward a bill that will mean even more offenders do not get the treatment they need?

Currently, the aboriginal population represents 2.8% of the entire population of Canada but account for 18% of the federal prison population. One out of every five prisoners in the federal system is aboriginal. How can the government bring forward legislation that will worsen this overrepresentation?

It is becoming very clear to me that there is no logical plea in this House that will ever elicit a rational response from the Conservatives because they do not want logic or facts to enter this debate, if we can call it that. Instead, they just want Canadians to be afraid so they will accept it when they pass such a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation like Bill C-10 into law, a bill that would paralyze our criminal justice system and crowd our prisons to the point that they will no longer have the capacity to rehabilitate prisoners who eventually will come back into communities.

There is another fact that Conservatives do not like to face. My community, like many communities across this country, has actual gang violence. We need more police on the streets. We have been urging the Conservatives to put more resources into long-term policing efforts by the communities. The FCM and a number of other organizations have been asking the government to fund more police officers on an ongoing basis.

We need jails with the capacity to rehabilitate instead of just acting as factories for producing more gang members. We also need to end the cynical politics of fear. I want to see real changes to make this country a safer place in which to live. I want to see investment in crime prevention and in youth gang prevention that stops our kids from getting into gangs in the first place.

I want our prisons to function so that criminals are actually rehabilitated and do not leave prison just to re-offend. I want more investment in front line officers. I want people to be less afraid and our communities to be safer places. I want a criminal justice system that prevents crime and thereby reduces the number of victims in this society. We need to invest in programs that prevent crime from happening in the first place.

Instead, the Conservatives are ramming through a bill that would cost billions of dollars and a bill in which the experts warn that safety concerns have not been addressed. We must not let the Conservatives convince us that this bill would do anything to make our communities any safer. I do not believe it would. All the Conservatives want to do is make Canadians afraid.

I will continue to do my job, to stand up and question, to oppose and even make appeals to reason and logic, even though I know the Conservatives will ignore my questions, call me names and accuse me of being with the child pornographers. One would think that everything I have been describing is as low as it gets but, sadly, it is not. The worst part is that they know everything I am saying is true. They know that Bill C-10 would not make our communities safer but they do not care. They do not want to look at the facts.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 1:15 p.m., pursuant to an order made Wednesday, March 7, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith all questions necessary to dispose of the consideration of the Senate amendments to Bill C-10 now before the House.

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 45 the recorded division stands deferred until Monday, March 12, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you see the clock at 1:30 p.m.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is there unanimous consent to see the clock at 1:30 p.m.?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.