Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to address this private member's bill tabled in the House by my colleague from the adjoining riding of Calgary East. I too share many of the member's sentiments when it comes to sentencing for a crime which really has proliferated in many of our communities. I can say that over the last 30 or 35 years its impact on so many of our areas and communities and on the lives of the people has increased exponentially.
I can recall my early years as a police officer in the city of Calgary, where a crime such as break and enter in a dwelling was a serious crime and the investigators had to be called out, if members can feature that, to come and investigate that crime. Today the numbers of break and enters that fill the police ledger are so numerous that the constable on the street has become a paper-shuffler. He will answer the call. He will take the information from the victim. Most of that is for the purposes of insurance so that there is a report on file. That constable then goes on his way without really having had the opportunity or the time to go and investigate the crime. That is how much things have changed over the last 35 years. Then it was a serious crime and an investigator was assigned to it but now it is just like taking a report on a theft. That is how prevalent the crime is today.
I can appreciate any piece of legislation that would offer some sort of a deterrent. I think it is high time we started looking at deterrent legislation. Unfortunately things are going the opposite way. There is not the deterrent legislation that there used to be.
I do not know if anyone in the House has had a break-in at their own place. I wonder if everyone has experienced that. I have too, as a police officer. Culprits that were in the neighbourhood decided to break into my place. They stole a number of items. They ransacked the entire house. They got into every drawer, turned clothes upside down and took clothes out. They took some of my police equipment. An investigation was conducted that involved several police officers over a long period of time. There was a known group of people in the community that was breaking into the houses in the region, which is no different from what is happening today, yet those people were never charged.
The impact that it had and has left on my family was quite significant. My wife was very upset because someone had touched every piece of clothing in the house. That was a violation right there. That is a lasting anxiety. It takes a long time to disappear. It happened when we were out of the house and I would hate to say what the feelings of the victims would be if they were in the house when a culprit entered uninvited.
It is a crime and although it is considered a property crime it does have this very personal nature to it. It is an abuse and a violation of privacy. Courts used to take those matters into consideration years ago. When I joined the police department years ago, the sentence was seven years for a house break-in. That was what it was when I left the police department in 1993 and now the sentence can be as low as six months.
The other unsettling feature to the court side of it is that the courts look at the offences of one offender which could number as high as 150 housebreakings as one offence. The courts sentence that culprit in a global fashion. It is called a global sentencing. Culprits could go out and break into 100 houses, and I have arrested people that have committed 100 break-ins, 150 break-ins and they would still be sentenced globally and it would be considered one offence in the eyes of a court.
There is something wrong with that kind of viewpoint. There is something wrong when offenders, whether they are young offenders or adults, get six months, a year or two years for committing 150 break-ins. I have talked to the victims. Unfortunately the courts have never had that opportunity to personally talk to them. I have seen heirlooms stolen from a housebreaking where the culprit is caught. The maximum sentence I have ever seen as a police officer testifying in court was four years and that was for 150 housebreakings. There was even suspected violence in one, but it was never proven.
I believe there is a need to visit not only the minimum sentences offered in court, but a complete review of the court sentencing practice of global sentencing.
If I were to look at this potential legislation and consider who is a repeat offender, I would ask the government side of the House that if a second offence was committed by the same culprit, and I do not care if it was prior to sentencing, the individual would be a repeat offender. The individual has now committed more than one crime. Unfortunately the courts do not look at it that way. A culprit can commit 150 such crimes, but the court sentences the individual to one sentence.
I have never, and I do not think anyone here can testify to the contrary, seen a culprit obtain a life sentence for housebreaking. I looked at the statistics. There are nearly 300,000 housebreakings in this country each year. That is a lot of insurance claims. That is a lot of victimization. The statistics undoubtedly reflect not only dwellings, but it would appear that they also reflect shopbreakings. Even if half of those numbers were on housebreakings those are major violations.
A housebreaker, and I am going to say he because as far as I know there have been few females charged with this offence, although there are more now, but they generally go from the very minor theft of jewellery items all the way up to the total destruction of a residence. Even with the total destruction of a residence, I have never seen a sentence go beyond four years. When I say total destruction I mean ransacking the entire premises and doing significant damage inside.
I will reflect on Bill C-386 which my colleague from Calgary East has presented to the House. I encourage Liberal members to pay attention to the bill. I believe there is a safety factor issue for our communities. I encourage Liberal members to support the bill.