Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased today to speak on Bill C-10, currently before the House. Like many bills considered by the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, this is an extremely important bill because it concerns, on the one hand, the rights and freedoms of numerous individuals, in this case those with psychiatric disorders and, on the other, public safety.
It is, therefore, our duty as parliamentarians, particularly the ones who sit on the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, to find the necessary balance between these two fundamental positions in our society: respect for individual rights and freedoms and for public safety, which obviously includes security of the person.
The Bloc Québécois is always cognizant of the need to maintain this extremely fragile balance, in our societies, often more fragile than we know. This balance was, in our opinion, destroyed by Bill C-36 and the anti-terrorism legislation introduced by this government in the last Parliament. So, we are carefully watching these areas because they are of great concern to us, even more so since, in the past, the government has destroyed this balance with other bills and legislation it has passed in this House. This makes us twice as careful about similar issues.
I will echo my Conservative predecessor. I took part in this process based on a desire to cooperate. I have personally tested how this minority government works since it was elected on June 28. At that time, as we know, 54 Bloc members were elected. This is a shining victory for our party, due, among other things, to the quite exceptional performance of our leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, during the election campaign. As a result, it is the duty and obligation of the government to work in cooperation with all the parties. It has no choice.
I have to admit this was not the case in the past. The Liberal Party of Canada, with its too frequent tendency to feel proprietorial about the seat of government, has tended to be far too arrogant and disagreeable, not just toward Canadians in general, but toward MPs of all parties in this House. It has had an all too frequent tendency to make decisions with little consultation and very little cooperation with the parties in opposition, saying that it would simply ensure that this or that bill got passed because of its majority position. Too often, in my opinion, this House as well as the entire legislative process suffered in the process. As a result, Quebec, and all of Canada, were deprived of the positive input that could have come from their representatives, the opposition MPs in particular.
It is important to point out that question period, which will start in another hour and a half or so, is very much a confrontational situation, despite its very important parliamentary role. The opposition calls for an accounting from the government, and it has to provide answers in the House. This is very much a confrontational exercise. In a parliament based on the British tradition, moreover, the members are placed in such a way as to encourage confrontation across the floor.
What the general public is less aware of is that the committee context offers an opportunity to work together, if the will is there of course, without partisan politics, in order to achieve objectives that are, when it comes down to it, quite similar for all parties, with the obvious exception of the Bloc Québécois objective of making Quebec a sovereign country.
I have tested the government's declared willingness to cooperate. I have found both the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary willing to sit down with us, willing to consult us and willing to explain their point of view. In addition, for the first time in a very long time—I have been a member of Parliament since 1997—I found them demonstrating a willingness to listen to what opposition members had to say regarding the various bills, including Bill C-10.
I can tell the parliamentary secretary and the Minister of Justice that I am prepared to continue working with them in this spirit of collaboration which they exhibited concerning Bill C-10. I hope that this willingness to cooperate will continue for the good of the entire population. This willingness to cooperate has been demonstrated with respect to the amendments to Bill C-10 proposed by the Bloc Québécois, which were of course based on research and detailed legal analysis of that bill, as well as on the considerable amount of testimony heard by the committee.
The quality of the witnesses appearing before the justice committee is exceptional. We benefit from listening to them and retaining their suggestions, because the men and women who come to give us their viewpoint do so admirably and they are thoroughly familiar with the issue. Often, just among ourselves, they know the issue much better than the members of Parliament do, at least as the legislative process begins. Thus they can shed light on certain questions which in our first analysis, we might have ignored, or to which we might not have given the attention they deserved.
Two questions have been studied by the committee, particularly by the Bloc members. I would like to say something about each of them. First, there is the question of who will conduct the psychiatric assessment of these people. We know that many of us here in this House come from regions where psychiatrists are scarce. It was important to ensure that people who must be assessed could be assessed not only by psychiatrists, but also by other, perhaps differently qualified individuals, selected by the government of each province.
This would allow people with mental disorders to be assessed in their own regions without having to go to big cities and would prevent the provincial governments from having to spend a fortune on sending a psychiatrist to a region without one.
This amendment, which was suggested by many witnesses, was presented in the committee by the Bloc. Although the wording has been changed, the government and I did manage to agree on it. This amendment was presented and adopted in the committee.
We worked on another amendment, which has to do with the victims. We know that victims are far too often forgotten in the cumbersome legal process. They are the ones who have been hurt by a certain action. They might be hurt physically, psychologically or often both. It is very important for me to make this a basic issue in any discussion I have on this matter as Bloc Québécois justice critic. It is a basic and unwaivering concern of mine to ensure that these men and women who are victims of violence do not feel lost in the justice system, which is very complex, even to lawyers.
One of the amendments we proposed, which was also changed in cooperation with the government, would ensure that victims' rights are taken into consideration.
There are a few other amendments that I proposed in the committee. For those who have followed the work of the committee, I tabled amendment BQ-1, which I withdrew following a commitment made by the government.
As I was saying earlier to the parliamentary secretary, just before my speech, after I withdrew my amendment to redefine unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible, the government promised that this issue would be raised during a meeting of the federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers. By the end of this session, before the summer adjournment, the government will come back before the committee to give a progress report on its work on this part of the bill. The government repeated this commitment earlier.
Besides amendment BQ-1 and all subsequent amendments, another very important amendment was withdrawn, namely amendment BQ-10. I am sorry to be so technical. The government promised to revisit the matter. This is an amendment to paragraph 672.5(8), which stood in my name. The government had asked me to withdraw my amendment because it believed that it was placing a rather heavy obligation on the provinces and on the legal aid system in particular.
The government made a commitment to come back before the committee after raising this issue once more at a federal-provincial conference. I am very anxious to hear what the government will have to say on the matter. As I said at the beginning of my speech, any legislation dealing with the balance between the rights and freedoms of individuals and those of society deserves our full attention, and there is always room for improvement.
Depending on the government's response following its discussions with the provinces, I may have to come back with a bill or go back to committee to try and amend this bill again.
Finally, amendment BQ-19 was the last one to be withdrawn following discussions with the government. I cannot go through all the amendments. It was withdrawn following a very productive meeting I had at my office with the various Justice officials before attending a committee meeting.
All that to say that, at this stage, we support Bill C-10, which was improved on through the consensual effort of the different parties in the House of Commons. I hope this atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration will continue.
On behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I pledge to continue working along those lines, because the interests of Quebeckers and Canadians are much better served when parliamentarians and the different parties work together to provide the people who send us here with the very best legislation.