Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-2 which we are examining today.
It is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to help those listening to us by casting some light on what an omnibus bill is. An omnibus bill is a bill which combines several bills that could not be enacted in the previous session because the government decided to prorogue the House and terminate them at whatever stage they had reached. That was the choice of the Conservative Party and the reason behind Bill C-2, the bill before us now. If the government had not decided to prorogue the House, a goodly number of those bills would have already been passed.
Before getting into the heart of Bill C-2, I would offer a reminder to those listening. When a bill amending the Criminal Code is being passed, we need to keep the crime situation in mind. That is something easily done by people who follow the television news. We all know how the print and electronic media try to attract readers and viewers by focusing on certain situations, trying to sell papers or attract viewers by interviewing victims or their relatives.
Ours is, of course, a media-driven society. The media make the situation more difficult when they neglect to show the other side of the coin. It is all very well to focus on crimes, to opine that certain sentences are too soft, and so on, and to try to find evidence that the justice system is not working, but when it comes to the other side of the coin, discussing the crime situation in general, the media is not pulling its weight there.
This is what I wish to draw to your attention, as well as to the attention of those listening. Things must be balanced. That is our objective as legislators, to begin with. And it is my colleagues here in this House, such as the hon. members for Trois-Rivières, Shefford and Manicouagan, and all the members of the Bloc Québécois, who have the onerous task of balancing things out.
The Conservatives have but one thing in mind: to do everything they can to hold on to power. I often say jokingly—though I sometimes believe it seriously—that power drives one mad. One only needs to look at how the Prime Minister and some of his ministers are behaving to see what it is like to be in power after having been in opposition. A person might well say that power does have that effect on certain people and their sanity.
I am providing this background because crime has been declining steadily in Quebec as well as in Canada over the past 15 years or so. That is not an invention of the Bloc Québécois or the sovereignists that we are. Statistics Canada recently confirmed that the national crime rate reached its lowest point in over 25 years in 2006. Moreover, the homicide rate in Quebec was the lowest in that province since 1962.
So, we are doing fine. I am bringing this up, because the hon. members may have heard of people being surveyed. The Conservative Party, through the government, conducted a large survey of more than 2,000 people across Canada to determine how it might win its election by listening to what the people had to say about crimes and punishments. Interestingly enough, however, there was no mention of the current state of crime in any of the questions; I know this because, by chance, one of my assistants was among those surveyed. The press and electronic media give the impression that crime is rampant, but when we check the statistics and see that crime is down, with a crime rate at its lowest level in 25 years, we put things in perspective.
That is, of course, what the Bloc Québécois is trying to do. We have always been very aware and have always endeavoured to find a balance.
It is not easy to find a balance between the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP. I can say candidly that they are pretty much all the same. In light of all the surveys published all over the place, it is clearly important to have a party representing a majority of Quebeckers and trying to bring some balance to this House.
The Bloc Québécois has tried to bring such balance throughout the debate on Bill C-2 while at the same time bearing in mind the statistics. As I indicated, the national crime rate reached its lowest point in over 25 years in 2006. In Quebec, the homicide rate was the lowest since 1962.
Does this means that all is well? No, all is not well. We know that crime has not been eradicated. It is sad to say, but in our industrialized countries where the rich and the poor coexist alongside one another, there will always be crime. Our objective is to try to lower the crime rate as much as possible, and that is something the members of the Bloc Québécois work on every day.
However, we must also put all this crime into perspective. I will provide another statistic. In terms of violent crime, Quebec has the second lowest rate and is just behind Prince Edward Island. Quebec even recorded a 4% decrease in youth crime in 2006, surpassing all the other provinces.
It is important for members from other provinces to understand that it was quite some time ago that Quebec opted for social reintegration rather than repression and increased sentences, the establishment of minimum sentences or other measures. That is a choice made by Quebec.
I do not wish to repeat the statistics mentioned by other colleagues in this House, but when we look at U.S. states that also opted for reintegration rather than repression—the state of New York among others—we see that crime rates in those states, compared to others, are decreasing. That is the kind of statistic that is of interest to us.
As parliamentarians, we must mitigate the very harmful influence of media sensationalism. It is understandable because they have to sell newspapers or the best television news reports. They will try to capture the sensational aspect of an incident rather than portraying the balance that can be inherent in a society.
It is important to us that the rest of Canada understand that Quebec has done things differently. In addition, the effects on crime rates are very important and hence the position of the Bloc Québécois in the committee that discussed Bill C-2. Our position was different than that of the other parties in this House. We do not hold that against them. It is just that Quebec and the rest of Canada are very different. We do not think in the same way.
One day, Quebeckers will make the rest of Canada understand. We will decide to have our own country with our own laws and so forth. In the meantime, we participate and try to bring Canadian society up to speed with Quebec society. And that is not easy. It is not easy.
I will give some examples of the Bloc Québécois proposals made in committee that were rejected.
We proposed amendments to Bill C-2, to eliminate the practice of granting parole almost automatically after one-sixth of a sentence has been served. Since in Quebec we have reintegration, this causes a problem. Automatic parole after one-sixth of a sentence has been served means that when we want to create programs and force criminals to attend therapy, we find that they participate less when they know that they are automatically eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence.
Again, everyone will say that it does not make sense that criminals are eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence. This has been going on across Quebec. We wanted to change this in a House committee, but our proposal was rejected by the Conservative Party and the other parties.
Once again, Quebec society is much more advanced than Canadian society.
We also suggested putting an end to statutory release once two-thirds of a sentence has been served, by having a professional formally assess inmates regarding the overall risk of reoffending that they represent to the community.
As for social reintegration, we believe that statutory release once two-thirds of a sentence has been served is no longer acceptable in Quebec society. Before criminals are almost automatically released, we want them to be assessed by professionals. We made that suggestion in committee, but, once again, the other parties did not agree.
We suggested that the onus of proof should be reversed in the case of criminals found guilty of the offences of loan-sharking, procuring, robbery, fraud over $5,000 and counterfeiting in order to facilitate the seizure of assets that are the product of crime.
It was the Bloc Québécois that proposed reversing the burden of proof with respect to the proceeds of crime in cases involving organized groups. As some may remember, the Bloc Québécois led that crusade against organized crime by proposing that the burden of proof be reversed so that it would no longer be up to the Crown to prove where the money came from to acquire the goods. The opposite is now true. The burden of proof automatically falls on members of criminal organizations, who must prove that they paid for their goods with legitimate earnings. Since that is difficult to do, goods can be seized automatically.
That bill concerning criminal organizations was supported by the other parties in this House. We proposed to do the same for the issue under consideration today. Why not reverse the onus for criminals who have been found guilty of offences involving usury, procuring, robbery or fraud? That would cover not criminal organizations, but organized criminals. In cases of fraud exceeding $5,000, these criminals would be required to prove that the goods they acquired were paid for using legitimately earned funds. Failing that, the goods would be seized.
Believe it or not, the other parties rejected the amendments the Bloc Québécois proposed for Bill C-2.
We proposed attacking the street gang problem by giving the police better tools to work with, such as longer warrants for investigations using GPS tracking. As I said earlier, Quebec society is a little farther ahead than the rest of Canada. GPS technology is an integral part of fighting crime in Quebec. Unfortunately, the proposed amendments do not include this suggestion made by the Bloc Québécois.
We proposed a ban on wearing signs, symbols or other indications that identify individuals as belonging to groups recognized by court as criminal organizations.
Once again, we struck at organized criminal groups. Quebec fought a battle. It went very well. We are lucky to have with us in the House the former minister responsible for public security in Quebec, the hon. Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who did an excellent job in that position. He went after organized criminal groups directly, with the support of the Bloc Québécois, by amending the Criminal Code to provide for reverse onus of proof. We did well. We wanted to ban the wearing of insignia by criminal groups, organized gangs of bikers and others, but this amendment to Bill C-2 was rejected.
We wanted to put an end to the rule whereby time spent in detention prior to trial was doubled for sentencing purposes. A sentence would begin at the moment of detention rather than at the time of sentencing, in order to put an end to an abusive practice which did no credit to the administration of justice.
We discovered that, when the rule is applied, that is, when an individual is taken into custody prior to trial, the time involved is doubled in the sentence. This is standard, and criminals have obviously understood it. So they put off their trial as long as possible since, when they are in custody prior to trial, they get a bonus of double time and a reduced sentence.
Quebec society understood it well because of the fight against organized crime and all that. We put these amendments forward, but, unfortunately, none of the ones we put forward was passed, even though some have the unanimous approval of the ministers of public security in Quebec and other provinces.
This exemplifies the Conservative government, which has its blinkers on tight, which conducts polls with very specific focus, and which tells us that no changes will be allowed to a bill and that it will be made a vote of confidence.
So, the Bloc Québécois will support the conclusions of Bill C-2, except we would have liked to improve it. However, once again, the sway of power over these Conservative men and women is such that they are self absorbed. They show no desire to improve bills. They think that they are right, that truth and life are within their power and are in the end opposed to any idea of improvement.
This is what power has done to them. We will see what happens in the next election. As I am the Bloc's chief organizer, I want to reiterate that we will support the bill, not because we are frightened by the possibility of a vote of confidence, but because we think it will further the fight against organized crime, even though this is not the way we would have chosen.
Here is an example. I am getting to the core of Bill C-2. It combines five bills, including one that strengthens the provisions on offences involving firearms. It is perfect. Initially, Bill C-10 was simply being repeated. That bill sought to amend the Criminal Code to increase minimum prison sentences to five, seven or 10 years, depending on whether the crime was a repeat offence, for eight serious offences involving the use of a firearm, if the weapon used was not a hunting rifle. Once again, we see the Conservative vision. It is a weapon, but not a hunting weapon.
For anyone who follows these things, hunting rifles have changed considerably over the past 30 years. First of all, they are no longer made of the same materials and they are very light. This often makes it very difficult for law enforcement. I would like to believe that no hunters will use their weapons, except there is no longer a registry. Indeed, the goal of the Conservatives is to eliminate the gun registry, claiming that only hunters are going to acquire weapons. Yet, given the new technology, more and more criminals are going to use long guns—as they like to call them—precisely because they are lighter, thanks to new technology and so on. The Conservative philosophy wants to protect long guns. Naturally, to do so, there can be no registry. After all, no one who has a long gun is a criminal.
I am sorry, but plenty of cabins get robbed and hunters' weapons make their way into the criminal networks. Yet, this legislative amendment would not apply to those who have firearms. And I repeat, when it comes to these offences involving firearms, for instance, it says “if the weapon used is not a hunting weapon”. Consequently, the bill deals with all weapons except hunting weapons.
I have a great deal of difficulty understanding that, but I can understand the Conservative philosophy behind it. To the Conservatives, you can do anything with a hunting weapon. It is as simple as that. That is all there is to it. There is a reason they want to abolish the gun registry.
I would like to digress for a moment. In Quebec, 95% of hunters registered their guns. This is no problem, because there are no longer any fees. We supported the amendment that eliminated the renewal fee. Since people had already registered their guns, no one lost any sleep over this, except in the west, where the situation is reversed, obviously. Westerners were opposed to the registry from the start and decided not to register their guns. Today, to please western Canada, the Conservatives have once again decided to abolish the gun registry, even though hunters in the rest of the country could live with it. This Conservative approach to governing is evident in this bill.
Once again, all we want to say to the people who are watching is that, yes, bills have to evolve. That is true, but we have to be careful. We must not succumb to the sensationalism of the media, which will not hesitate to blow any accident or crime out of proportion to sell newspapers or get people to watch newscasts. Yet statistics prove that Quebec's approach, which consists of rehabilitating criminals by giving them every possible opportunity to work their way back into society, is much more effective at reducing the crime rate than the punitive approach some societies have opted for, as the Conservatives would like to do.