Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to join in the debate on Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.
As the Minister of Justice noted when he spoke in reply to the Speech from the Throne, safe streets and secure communities are the Canadian way of life. This is what I would like to focus my remarks on today, how we are building a stronger, safer and better Canada, beginning with Bill C-2.
I have had many opportunities, as probably all members in the House have had, to talk with my constituents, parents, community leaders, police, lawyers, and many others about their concern with crime and what we should do about it.
What I have heard has likely been heard by all hon. members as they have travelled throughout their ridings and indeed across Canada. Canadians are clearly expecting their government to take concrete and effective action to tackle crime.
Unlike previous governments on this issue, the current government listens. We share these concerns and we have made tackling crime a key priority for our government. We have made it a key priority for our government because it is a key priority for Canadians, but there is so much more that needs to be done.
We know what crime looks like in Canada. Crime statistics have been recorded since 1962 so we have 45 years of information. Statistics Canada reported last July that the overall national crime rate has decreased for the second year in a row.
We all want to see a lower crime rate. So this is the good news. But the national crime rate is an average and does not tell us about some of the more serious problems or localized problems.
The long term trends over the last few generations show us what we all know in the House, that crime has increased drastically. Since the 1970s, for example, the violent crime rate has increased 98%, but the national crime rate does not tell us what may be going on in individual communities. Community leaders, victims groups and law enforcement know their particular challenges, and we are listening to them.
Many Canadians have lost confidence in the criminal justice system and question if it is doing enough to protect them. They know that violent crime is all too common. They dread hearing statistics like those released on October 17 by Statistics Canada.
Those statistics tell us that 4 out of 10, or 40% of victims of violent crimes sustained injuries. They tell us that half of violent crimes occurred at private residences. They tell us that firearms were involved in 30% of homicides, 31% of attempted murders and 13% of robberies committed. They tell us that one out of every six victims of violent crimes was a youth aged 12 to 17 years old and children under 12 years of age account for 23% of victims of sexual assaults and 5% of victims of violent crimes.
Canadians are looking to the federal government to work with them to restore community safety. The government understands the need for leadership in criminal justice and this is what our tackling crime priority, and our commitment in this regard is all about. It is about reducing all crime and providing an effective criminal justice system. Our plan is ambitious, but Canadians can count on us to get it done. As they have seen on other issues, we have been able to get things done for all Canadians.
In the last session of Parliament the government tabled 13 crime bills. This is proof of our commitment to address crime and safety issues in our communities. It is interesting to note that it was 13 crime bills as it was 13 years of Liberal governments that have left us with a revolving door justice system in which Canadians have lost faith, a justice system that Canadians feel puts the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of everyday, law-abiding Canadians. This is what our government is going to address.
Six of these crime bills, of the 13, received royal assent and are now the law or will soon become the law. For example, one of the government's first bills and first priorities was to curtail the use of conditional sentences or house arrest for serious violent crimes.
We all know the issue of house arrest. In all of our ridings we have heard cases where someone has committed a very serious, sometimes violent, crime and there is an expectation in the community that there will be a severe consequence for someone who commits a severe crime. All too often the community is outraged when it hears that criminals will be serving out their sentence from the comfort of their own home.
Bill C-9, which received royal assent on May 31, 2007, and will be coming into force on December 1, 2007, makes it clear that conditional sentences or house arrest will not be an option for serious personal injury offences, terrorism offences, and organized crime offences where the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years or more.
This change was a long time coming. It is well past due and Canadians will be better served by a justice system that does not allow, for these serious offences, criminals to serve a sentence in their own home. Canadians wanted this change.
Bill C-18 strengthened the laws governing the national DNA data bank. This will facilitate police investigation of crimes. Bill C-18 received royal assent on June 22, 2007. Some provisions are already in force and others will soon be proclaimed in force.
Bill C-19 made Canada's streets safer by enacting new offences to specifically combat street racing. These new offences built upon existing offences, including dangerous driving and criminal negligence, and provide higher maximum penalties of incarceration for the most serious of street racing offences.
As well, mandatory driving prohibition will be imposed on those convicted of street racing. In the most serious cases involving repeat street racing offenders, a mandatory lifetime driving prohibition can now be imposed.
We also took concrete steps to protect users of payday loans. Bill C-26, which received royal assent on May 3, 2007, makes it an offence to enter into an agreement or an arrangement to receive interest at a criminal rate or to receive payment of an interest at a criminal rate. The criminal rate of interest is defined as exceeding 60% per year.
We also took further measures to combat corruption. Bill C-48 enacted Criminal Code amendments to enable Canada to ratify and implement the United Nations convention against corruption on October 2, 2007. By ratifying the convention, Canada has joined 92 other state parties committed to working with the international community to take preventative measures against corruption.
Our bill to stop film piracy or camcording, Bill C-59, received widespread support. It was quickly passed and received royal assent on June 22, 2007.
Unfortunately, none of our other important crime bills progressed to enactment before Parliament prorogued. That is why the tackling violent crime act reintroduces the provisions of the following bills that died on the order paper.
The bill imposing mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for firearms offences, Bill C-10, is included in Bill C-2 as passed by the House of Commons.
Bill C-22, which increased the age of protection against adult sexual exploitation, has been included, as passed by the House of Commons.
Bill C-32, addressing drug impaired driving and impaired driving in general, has been introduced as amended by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and reported to the House of Commons.
Bill C-35, imposing a reverse onus for bail for firearms offences, has been included in this new bill, as passed by the House of Commons. This bill will make it tougher for those who have committed a firearms offence to received bail and be back out on the street.
Bill C-27, addressing dangerous and repeat violent offenders, as originally introduced, is included in this bill, but with some further amendments, which I will elaborate on shortly.
The tackling violent crime act respects the parliamentary process and includes the bills as amended by committee or as passed by the House of Commons, and in the same state that they were when Parliament was prorogued. As a result, these reforms are familiar, or should be familiar, to all members of this House, and so I would call on all hon. members to quickly pass the tackling violent crime act.
Indeed, many hon. members have already stated that they support these reforms. There is therefore no need to further debate these reforms or for a prolonged study of the provisions that Parliament has already debated and committees have already scrutinized. It is time for us all to demonstrate our commitment to safeguarding Canadians and for safer communities, and to quickly move this bill forward.
For those who need more convincing, I would like to reiterate that the tackling violent crime act addresses a range of serious issues that put Canadians at risk: gun crimes, impaired driving, sexual offences against children and dangerous offenders.
We know that Canadians expect their government to take action and to protect them from these crimes. To do so, we need the support of all hon. members, as well as Canadians, our partners in the provinces and the territories, and law enforcement and community groups.
Time does not permit me to address each of the equally important elements of Bill C-2. I know that other members will rise to speak to the reforms that are of most concern to them. I propose to highlight a few of the issues that have been raised repeatedly with me by my constituents, and I am sure by constituents in ridings held by all hon. members, in particular, about impaired driving, the age of consent and dangerous offenders.
Alcohol and drug impaired driving have devastating effects for victims, for families and for communities. Impaired drivers are responsible for thousands of fatalities and injuries each year, not to mention billions of dollars in property damage.
Once the tackling violent crime act is the law, impaired drivers will face tough punishment, no matter which intoxicant they choose, and police and prosecutors will have the tools that they need to deal with these offences.
Although drug impaired driving has always been a crime, until recently, police have not had the same tools available to stop those who drive while impaired by drugs that they have to address alcohol impaired driving. Under this bill, they will.
The tackling violent crime act strengthens the ability of police, prosecutors and the courts to investigate, prosecute and sentence those who endanger the safety of other Canadians through alcohol or drug impaired driving. I know that all hon. members recognize the pressing need to ensure the safety of our streets, highways, communities and our schools. By giving police the tools they need to combat impaired driving, we are doing that.
These reforms were applauded by the stakeholders and supported in the House of Commons. I am sure every member of Parliament in the House has received correspondence urging them to support the bill. There should be no impediments to making progress on this part of the tackling violent crime act.
The act also reintroduces the reforms to raise the age at which young people can consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16 years of age. The bill takes away the ability, and let us be clear on what the bill does, of adult sexual predators to rely on claims that their young victims consented.
Again, these reforms were welcomed by child advocates and supported in the House as part of former Bill C-22, so there is no need for further debate. We can move ahead.
It is worth spending a few moments to focus on the dangerous and high risk offender provisions of former Bill C-27. Some of these provisions have been modified and, therefore, hon. members may want to scrutinize these aspects more than the other reforms included in the tackling violent crime act.
The dangerous offender reforms in Bill C-2 respond to the concerns highlighted in the debates and before the justice committee, and by provincial attorneys general. I am sure that all hon. members will agree that these modifications are welcomed.
As members will recall, former Bill C-27 was tabled in the House last October. That bill included dramatic enhancements to the sentencing and management of the very worst of the worst, those offenders who repeatedly commit violent and sexual crimes and who require special attention, because it has become clear that the regular criminal sentencing regime simply cannot effectively manage the small but violent and dangerous group of offenders.
The tackling violent crime act includes all of the original amendments to the Criminal Code from the former Bill C-27, as well as two important changes which will go further in protecting Canadians from dangerous offenders.
First, let me provide an overview of the provisions brought forward into the House under Bill C-27. It includes the requirement in dangerous offender hearings that an offender be presumed to meet the dangerous offender criteria upon a third conviction for a primary designated offence. In other words, an offence that is on the list of the 12 most violent or sexual offences that typically trigger dangerous offender designations.
Second, the bill would also place a requirement on crown prosecutors to inform the court that they had fully considered whether to pursue a dangerous offender application. This is to prevent these applications from falling through the cracks. This would occur in cases where an offender had been convicted for a third time of a relatively serious sexual or violent offence.
The declaration is intended to ensure more consistent use of the dangerous offender sentence by the Crown in all jurisdictions. Although the Crown must indicate whether it has considered bringing a dangerous offender application, we are not dictating to it that it must do so. We are not attempting to arbitrarily fetter the discretion of the Crown or of the court. Rather, we are providing a way to make sure that the Crown turns its mind to the issue of a dangerous offender application.
Third, Bill C-2 would also bring forward the very significant reforms to the section 810.1 and 810.2 peace bond provisions that enable any person to apply to a court to ask for stringent conditions to be imposed against individuals who are felt to pose a threat of sexual or violent offending in the community.
We have all heard the horror stories from one end of the country to the other of someone who is known to be a threat to commit a sexual or violent offence against an innocent member of the community. There is often great frustration among Canadians at the perceived inability for government, for officials, for police, to act to protect the community from a subsequent violent or sexual offence.
Specifically, we are doubling the duration of peace bonds from one year to two years. We are also providing specific authority for the court to impose conditions regarding curfews, electronic monitoring, treatment requirements and other prohibitions as well as making it very clear that the court may impose any conditions it feels are necessary to ensure public safety.
Since the tabling of the former Bill C-27 last October, provincial attorneys general have raised concerns about violent offenders who are found to be dangerous offenders, but are not receiving indeterminate sentences. This is due to a finding that they could be managed under the long term offender designation.
The long term offender sentencing option currently in the Criminal Code allows a court to sentence an individual to a regular sentence of imprisonment, but add up to 10 years of intensive community supervision to the sentence.
Based on the interpretation of the lower courts of the 2003 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Johnson, many individuals who fully meet the designation of a dangerous offender have nonetheless been given long term offender designation instead. The Crown has been unable to convince the sentencing court that the offenders could not be managed under the less severe sentence option.
The big concern is that some of these individuals may not in fact be suitable for community supervision sentences. Yet, until they commit another violent sentence, their status as a dangerous offender cannot be reviewed by a court. I should mention, and it should be obvious, until they commit another violent offence, then it is too late for the community, for innocent victims and for families.
Given the concerns expressed since former Bill C-27 was tabled, the government has been examining the scope of this problem and developing potential solutions. It is clear that a large proportion of the individuals who meet the dangerous offender criteria, but have been given a less severe sentence, have demonstrated that they simply refuse to cooperate. The majority eventually breach one or more of the conditions of their long term supervision order. This is a clear indicator that the original sentence was based on a flawed presumption that the offender was manageable. As such, there is a real need to revisit the original sentence in order to stop the reoffending right then and there before another tragedy occurs.
The tackling violent crime act addresses this problem and includes new provisions that were not included in the former bill.
First, the tackling violent crime act makes it clear that from now on if offenders meet the dangerous offender criteria, they will always be designated as a dangerous offender first, and that designation is for life. The court must then determine the appropriate sentence, either an indeterminate sentence or a determinate sentence, with or without the long term offender supervision order. Critical to this scheme is that from now on the court must impose an indeterminate sentence unless it is satisfied that the offenders can be managed under a less severe sentence.
Second, in cases where dangerous offenders are able to satisfy the court that they can be managed under the lesser sentence and are subsequently charged and convicted with a breach of a long term supervision order, they can be brought back to the court for a new sentencing hearing. At the new hearing, dangerous offenders will have to satisfy the court once again that they can still be managed under the lesser sentence. If not, the indeterminate sentence must be imposed.
The government believes that the impact of these new reforms will be significant. Because of the clarification to the sentencing provisions, fewer offenders will escape the dangerous offender designation. In addition, for the few offenders who are declared to be dangerous offenders, but given a long term offender sentence, they will know that if they do not abide by the term of their supervision orders once released, they will be returned to court for a new sentencing hearing and an indeterminate sentence will be the likely outcome.
It will not take a second sexual assault or a second violent offence to bring the offender back for a new dangerous offender sentence. This new provision would be available, for example, even if the violation were simply that the offender failed to return to his residence before curfew or consumed alcohol or drugs in violation of a long term offender supervision order.
Our government remains committed to ensuring that all Canadians live in safe and secure communities. The tackling violent crime act will protect Canadians. It is fulfilling our commitments to Canadians. The government is committed to taking action, acting on behalf of the safety of all Canadians. I urge all members to support the tackling violent crime act.