Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-386 introduced by the hon. member for Calgary East, an act to amend the criminal code dealing with breaking and entering. Last May an identical bill, Bill C-290, was debated at second reading and dropped from the order paper.
As was stated when the former bill was debated, the safety and security of Canadians in their own homes continues to be a key priority for the Government of Canada. The government has responded to concerns about home invasions through amendments to Bill C-15A, the criminal law amendment act, 2001 which is currently awaiting royal assent. The amendments to the criminal code indicate that where an offender's conduct is in the nature of a home invasion the court must consider it an aggravating factor when determining the sentence to be imposed.
Bill C-386 would amend paragraph 348(1)( d ) of the criminal code of Canada by providing for maximum penalties:
(i) in the case of a first offence, to imprisonment for life, or
(ii) in the case of a second or subsequent offence, to imprisonment for life or to a minimum term of imprisonment of not less than two years--
Section 348 of the criminal code currently makes it an offence to enter a place with intent to commit an indictable offence, to actually commit an indictable offence, or to have broken out of a place after having committed or intending to commit an indictable offence. The current maximum penalty for committing any of these acts in a dwelling place is life imprisonment. The offence of robbery also carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
I suspect most Canadians would be surprised that these offences attract such a severe maximum penalty. Surveys conducted by the Canadian Sentencing Commission in the mid-1980s showed that the public had little knowledge of either the maximum or minimum penalties and many people were surprised by the severity of the existing maxima.
The current maximum penalties for breaking and entering and robbery demonstrate that the government recognizes the conduct is of a serious nature which may have significant impacts on its victims. I might add that I know how it feels to have been a victim of a break and enter since I experienced it in my own home.
The sanctity of an individual's home as a place of safety free from intrusion has been recognized in common law for hundreds of years. It is in part for this reason that the criminal code offences of robbery and break and enter of a dwelling house are both subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Section 718 of the criminal code provides that:
The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute...to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society--
The objectives of sentencing set out in the criminal code include denouncing unlawful conduct, deterring the offender and others from committing offences, and promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders and an acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and the community.
The government shares the concerns of Canadians with regard to the relatively new phenomenon of home invasion robberies; that is, robberies that occur when the home is occupied. Courts across Canada have been imposing stiff sentences for this type of crime that address the sentencing objectives of denunciation and deterrence and highlight the importance of individuals being able to feel safe and secure in their own homes. The government's amendments to Bill C-15A signal that home invasions constitute serious conduct that should be met with significant penalties.
In addition to providing a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, which the criminal code already does for breaking and entering in a dwelling house for robbery, Bill C-386 would provide that a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of two years be imposed in the case of a second or subsequent offence.
Canada has historically utilized mandatory minimum penalties with restraint and has allowed courts the discretion to fashion a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the conduct of the offender. It is also interesting to see that other countries are questioning the use of mandatory minimum penalties. The legislature in Australia's Northern Territory recently repealed its mandatory minimum sentences. Courts of appeal in the United States have recently struck down some of California's mandatory minimum penalties as being cruel and unusual punishment.
Judges who have the benefit of being able to consider all the facts and evidence regarding the circumstances of the offence and the offender are well placed to determine the appropriate sentence in an individual case. Those circumstances must be weighed in light of the principles of sentencing. There is no clearly demonstrated need to create a minimum penalty for a second or subsequent conviction for breaking and entering a dwelling house given the high maximum penalty already in the code and the sentencing patterns for this offence.
It is also important to note that courts take into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing the fact that the offender has a previous conviction for the same or a related offence. In fact, the existence of a criminal record is the greatest predictor of a longer sentence length.
With respect to home invasion, the creation of an aggravating sentencing provision in Bill C-15A would encourage judges to use those tough penalties already available which, as noted, many courts have been doing throughout Canada in recognition of the seriousness of the offence and its devastating impact upon its victims.
While I recognize the concerns of the hon. member for Calgary East with respect to the offence of breaking and entering, I do believe that the existing penalty of life imprisonment for this offence and the amendments found in Bill C-15A clearly demonstrate our commitment to providing safe homes for all Canadians.