Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today on Bill C-23, which will amend the Criminal Code in several respects.
This is an omnibus bill concerned more particularly with criminal procedure, the language of the accused, sentencing, and other changes.
The proposed legislation is essentially a cleanup bill with the objectives of ensuring that the Criminal Code is up to date and to maximize its efficiency. Bill C-23 includes many substantive amendments to the Criminal Code, changes that touch on a number of issues, mostly to modernize the Criminal Code.
This is why we believe that this bill, if sent to committee to be thoroughly examined, would result in good law. At committee, experts can be called as witnesses to give evidence on the efficacy of each section of the amendments, whereby we might get closer to improving the Criminal Code, which we all recognize is a tired, well-worn and incomplete document for our criminal justice system, but it is the best we have had.
I do give compliments to the other side in suggesting that the Criminal Code was the child of a Conservative finance minister and subsequent prime minister in the 1880s. It has been patchworked together over the years, but no full and final revision of a modern Criminal Code has been undertaken, and it is long overdue.
However, this bill seeks to band-aid and fix up what we can to modernize certain sections of the code and we on this side welcome its implementation.
Some clauses included in Bill C-23 are aimed at keeping up with today's society, such as increasing the maximum fine for a summary conviction offence from $2,000 to $10,000. Although this might seem to be quite a jump, I believe that judges, with their cautious deference to the circumstances that exist, will use fair determinations to determine if an accused, based on capacity to pay, can make the payments and if the amount of the fine is indeed proportional to the person's capacity to pay.
Here I want to interject something that I think is very important to the whole tableau of justice bills that are before the House in this session. The 39th Parliament has seen a plethora of legal bills, but many of them and many of the actions of the government, despite the inundation of law, have really ripped apart the sense that we respect the judiciary.
I think of the delayed report on justices' salaries, now further delayed, we understand today. I think of the comments made by the Prime Minister of Canada in this House that Liberal lawyers were running the court challenges program. I think of the comments made by the Minister of Justice at the Canadian Bar Association conference in St. John's, and of those of the Prime Minister about Liberal judges made on occasions during the campaign of December and January of last year .
Notwithstanding that everybody might have a problem with certain appointments, when a judge becomes a member of the bench, he is a judge. He is an “Honourable Justice”. He is an interpreter of the laws. He deserves all of that respect.
The government has done nothing to further the cause of respect for the judiciary. It may be the on first day of civics class in grade 1 or grade 10, or in undergraduate or law school, that one learns that unless people have respect for the law through its judges, the law will not have the impact we all need it to have.
As the member for the riding of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, which is probably the most bilingual and most bicultural riding in the country, I am happy to see that Bill C-23 will reinforce the right of accused to be tried in the official language of their choice, and more particularly, the right to a bilingual trial in cases where two or more accused speak different official languages.
This is an important measure to ensure that all Canadians can have justice in either official language. As I was saying, in my community it would not be uncommon for an anglophone and a francophone to be tried together. The change to the law and the proposed amendments will ensure a trial in the preferred language of the accused. This is basic to our judicial system and would be just and fair.
At this time, I would also like to interject that this side of the House is for safer communities. This side of the House is for law and order. This side of the House is for the victims of crime as much as anything else that we stand for.
We differ in the ways to ensure that victims are safe in their communities. It is not enough to grandstand with bills that have catchy titles and catch the six o'clock news. To make people feel that they are going to be safer, the laws have to be effective. For the laws to be effective, institutions like the Law Commission and programs like the court challenges program are essential to ensure that we have a just and equitable society and that people feel safe in their communities.
More than that, in the situation and the environment where there is some $13.2 billion in surplus, we need to see that there are more resources in the community to enforce the law and to enforce programs that the police forces believe in, such as problem-oriented policing, which means having the police presence in the schools and in the community to prevent crime from happening. And that is to say nothing about the whole concept of rehabilitation, which must wait for another day.
Another aspect of the bill that I find very interesting, at least in principle, is the aspect of the issues surrounding subsequent prohibition from driving for consecutive offenders on impaired driving charges. As a father of three beautiful young girls, it enrages me to hear on the news of repeat drunk drivers and the menace they pose to our society.
I am proud to say that the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a New Brunswicker. I am proud to say that the very first meeting I had in my constituency office was with the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I know it is especially important to look and to act as if we as parliamentarians care about what happens when someone gets behind the wheel of a car impaired, not for the first time and certainly not for the last time if they do not get consecutive sentences that restrain them from driving.
Some people cannot get the message. They must be restrained from driving. This bill does that. It is long overdue. I think all sides can agree with the wise impact of that amendment. We often learn in these cases that it is these irresponsible individuals who have been arrested many times before for drunk driving and are out again in the community posing danger to our community.
However, here is where I must interject as well. In recent announcements by the government, $4.6 million has been cut from a pilot program administered or put in place by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to determine if someone is impaired from drug use while driving. While the acronym MADD might stand for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, they might as well be MAID, mothers against impaired driving. It matters not the source of the stupefier or the ingested product, whether it is alcohol or drugs. What matters is the danger to our innocent public.
It is insincere to cut this program on the one hand and on the other hand suggest that this law is in step with what the government feels. Through Bill C-23, the government has added prohibitions that were long thought of, but on the other hand it has stopped a program that might easily identify people who are impaired from other sources. It completely misses the mark. It is completely inconsistent. It makes me think that the Minister of Justice has not thought through the implications of his whole dossier in justice.
Of course, justice should not just be about more severe sentences and longer jail terms. Justice is about making our country safer. I strongly believe that this is not done by locking up criminals and throwing away the key. It is done through prevention, to protect potential victims from living through the recurrence of dramatic events. When it is not possible to prevent crimes, I believe justice is done through proper treatment to ensure criminals understand what they have done. This should, we all hope, be the first step in rehabilitating them and preventing further crimes. Again, our concern is about the victims: prevention of crime.
Bill C-23 is proposing to allow a sentencing delay in order to enable the offender to receive treatment. Bravo. This is finally the government suggesting that it believes in principles of sentencing other than deterrence and denunciation. It makes me think again that this bill, which we support, really is not a bill of the government. This was not the brainchild of the government. This is a fix-up bill that was well under way prior to the change in government.
So I must applaud the other side for seeing the sense in these parts of the amendments. I am very pleased that the Minister of Justice is bringing such a liberal approach to his department in this respect. I would almost be tempted to congratulate him on realizing the important role of treatment and rehabilitation, but of course we all know, both at the committee and in the public, that there are many other bills that have been before the House, and are to be before the committee, which strip away at the sincerity of the government's posturing toward treatment and rehabilitation. So I came close to complimenting the minister, but I cannot.
I must say it is refreshing to see the Conservative minority government respect some of these principles. We would like to see more action on them as it relates to the bill.
I am very interested in having the House discussing the omnibus bill one week after the Conservative government abolished the Law Commission of Canada. As most members are probably aware, the main objective of the Law Commission of Canada was to advise Parliament on how to improve and modernize its laws. Is that not ironic? We are here discussing Bill C-23, which is essentially a modernization, a keeping up to date of the Criminal Code, one of our oldest statutes, and as most members are probably aware, the Law Commission of Canada is to exist no more.
The Law Commission of Canada provided exceptional advice on such topics. This is why we are at a loss to explain that on the one hand we see parts of this omnibus bill that obviously recognize the evolution--somebody watching the Criminal Code as it evolved and coming up with these proposals--and on the other hand the government is saying it is not really interested in organically studying the evolution of law and it will cut the Law Commission just like that without any real reason.
I would say, if I could make a statement here, that in the space of a few days, the government in fact has shown its support for the Law Commission of Canada by speaking in favour of the bill. It is cutting funds to the Law Commission of Canada, and on the same day, as we know, there was a surplus announced of over $13 billion.
Generally speaking, Bill C-23 is all about details, but as we all know, some amendments have been made to the Criminal Code, and sometimes they look pretty small and unimportant. They often, however, have long term implications. Any of us following the saga of Bill C-9 on conditional sentencing will know that in what was more than the stroke of a pen, in what was a 60 page decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Proulx, what seemed like a very ordered system to deal with the application of conditional sentences turned into something completely different.
I believe, however, that we must study each of these amendments further at committee and learn more about the implications of some of the changes.
The purpose of Bill C-23 is to clean up, modernize and update the Criminal Code. We still have a responsibility, though, to study it thoroughly and understand the implications of the proposed changes.
The proposed amendments are quite varied and touch on several areas of the Criminal Code. It would be a very long, complicated process, therefore, to discuss them in detail in the House. For this reason, it is very appropriate to send BillC-23 to committee to ensure that each of these changes is well understood.
I am looking forward to studying this bill in the justice committee and the workings therein. With almost 50 clauses, Bill C-23 will definitely need some serious consideration to ensure we do actually clean up and modernize the Criminal Code, and not create more problems.
One last thing that concerns me is the workload that is being sent to the justice committee, not because the members of the committee from all parties are afraid of work, we are sitting three times a week now, but because of the sheer volume of bills presented to the committee. It seems like the government is more interested in putting these bills in the front store of its populist democracy and has no real interest in making sure that these bills are passed by this Parliament in a quick and just way.
I caution members of this House, if we are serious about keeping communities safer, if we are serious about protecting victims, then let us back up our words, as much as we agree on certain bills, and get these bills through this House.
That is why I emphatically endorse Bill C-23. Members will find that on this side of the House, in the House and in committee, we will put forth our very best efforts to see to it that it is passed with speed because this party and this side believe in safer communities and in the safety of victims.
I hearken back to my comments about my three daughters, aged 7, 8 and 10. If I thought we were not of ultimate dispatch in passing the amendments to this bill that call for further and subsequent prohibitions from driving for repeat drunk drivers, I would hold all of the members here accountable for not having done enough. Let us get to work on this bill.