moved that Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to lead off the third reading debate on Bill C-10.
During the last federal election, the Conservative Party of Canada laid out clear plans to make our streets and communities safer for Canadians. We promised to target criminal enterprise and the gangs that profit from violence, drugs and fear and undermine people's sense of personal security and their confidence in the Canadian criminal justice system.
Canadians listened to our message of hope and responded by granting us the privilege of forming the government, so today I am very proud to stand in the House as Minister of Justice to follow through on our promises to deliver on our core promises to tackle crime.
In order to make our communities safer, we introduced several criminal justice bills aimed at getting violent, dangerous criminals off our streets.
We introduced Bill C-22, the age of protection bill, to protect 14 year olds and 15 year olds from adult sexual predators.
We introduced Bill C-27 to improve the process for keeping violent and repeat offenders in prison, and Bill C-9, which aims to put an end to house arrest for serious and violent offenders and which, I am pleased to say, has passed this House.
These are just a few of our recent initiatives.
Bill C-10, the bill that we have before us at third reading, is an important piece of legislation that specifically targets gun and gang violence.
I am very pleased that we have received the support of a majority of members of the House to restore the bill, and while the bill we debate today is amended somewhat from its original form, it still contains tough mandatory minimum penalties for serious offences involving firearms.
More specifically, Bill C-10, as amended, proposes escalating penalties of five years' imprisonment on a first offence and seven years on a second or subsequent offence for eight specific serious offences involving the actual use of firearms. Those offences are: attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent to injure a person or prevent arrest, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery, and extortion.
I should point out that these tough penalties will apply when the offence is committed in connection with a criminal gang or if a restricted or prohibited firearm is used.
Who can be against that? Who can be against those provisions? This is what we talked about with the Canadian public in the last election and I believe there is widespread support for a bill of this nature.
Bill C-10 defines what will constitute a prior conviction with respect to these use offences, that is, the use of firearms. This means that any prior conviction in the last 10 years, excluding the time spent in custody, for using a firearm in the commission of an offence will count as a prior conviction and will trigger the enhanced mandatory penalty for repeat offences.
Also, I should point out that Bill C-10 now proposes penalties of three years on a first offence and five years on a second or subsequent offence for four serious offences that do not involve the actual use of a firearm. Those offences are: illegal possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm with ammunition, firearm trafficking, possession for the purpose of firearm trafficking, and firearm smuggling.
For the non-use offences it is important to note that the prior convictions for both the use offences and the non-use offences will trigger the higher mandatory minimum penalties applicable in repeat offences.
The bill, as amended, also creates two new offences dealing specifically with the theft of firearms. Breaking and entering to steal a firearm and robbery to steal a firearm now are made indictable-only offences, subject to life imprisonment.
Therefore, as we can see, this bill targets serious gun crimes with a particular focus on when such crimes are committed by criminal organizations, which of course includes gangs.
It sends a very clear message to the public that this Conservative government is serious about dealing with this type of crime. I am very pleased and proud that we are introducing this piece of legislation and seeing it through to its conclusion.
I should point out the manner in which Bill C-10 was amended at report stage is an example of this government's willingness to make this minority Parliament work. Together with members of the New Democratic Party we dealt with a problem and we found a solution that responded to our respective concerns and priorities. I am pleased that we had their support and that of several other hon. members of this House.
I saw, I believe, about five members of the Liberal Party who broke ranks with their own party. I want to tell the House how much I welcomed that and certainly appreciated their support. I think they received the message on this. I am very pleased to have that support at third reading. I would welcome more support from other members of the opposition.
I should point out that Bill C-10 has the support of other important stakeholders as well. Police officers and prosecutors are supportive of this government's attempt to pass this tough on crime legislation. They have said that tougher mandatory penalties are needed to target the specific new trend that has emerged in many Canadian communities, and that is the possession and use of firearms, usually handguns, by street gangs and drug traffickers.
In that regard, I point out the support that this approach received from the attorney general of Ontario. He pointed out in a Globe and Mail article on March 6 that he liked this approach of getting tougher. He called on his federal colleagues in the Liberal Party to get behind legislation of this type because he believed this was the way to go.
Mr. Speaker, the safety and security of Canadians are not partisan matters. If we want to see progress in tackling gun crime, we will all have to do our part.
Police officers have to do their part in investigating and apprehending those who commit crimes. Crown attorneys have to do their part in ensuring that accused persons are effectively prosecuted, and of course, judges have their part to do in imposing sentences.
As parliamentarians we have a strong role to play as well. We set the laws. We signal to the courts what we consider to be appropriate penalties for specific crimes.
There are a number of opposition members who say they cannot support Bill C-10, but many of these same members have already supported mandatory penalties in the past, and particularly for firearms offences. In fact, it was the Liberal government that introduced a number of mandatory penalties in the mid-nineties and proposed a very modest increase to some of the gun-related crimes in the last Parliament.
This government does not believe a one year increase is going to make enough of a difference. We want to send a clearer message. We need to ensure that the appropriate stiff penalties are imposed on gun traffickers and gang members who use guns in such serious offences as attempted murder, hostage taking, robbery and extortion.
We believe that the proposals in Bill C-10, as amended, are both tough and reasonable. As I have already indicated, the proposals are restricted to the key areas that are a growing concern to people across this country.
There certainly is evidence to support the problems associated with the current level of gun crime. Crime statistics, police, and several other experts in this area, point to a growing problem with respect to guns and gangs. While the national trends show an overall decrease in some crime over the past few decades, it is not the case with violent crimes such as homicide, attempted murder, assault with weapons, and robbery, especially in larger urban areas across the country.
Statistics also show that while crimes committed with non-restricted guns are down, handguns and other restricted or prohibited firearms have become the weapon of choice for those who use firearms to commit crimes.
Toronto's rate of firearm homicides in recent years has frequently been reported by the press. Statistics Canada data shows that it is not just a problem unique to central Canada. The rate in Edmonton has also recently increased and Vancouver has consistently had higher rates over the last decade.
Gang-related homicides and the proportion of handguns used in violent crimes have become a major cause for concern and gun crime with restricted weapons or guns used by gang member is an increasing problem in urban communities.
Organized criminals are fuelling much of the crime problem and the government's justice agenda aims to curtail this problem by increasing the mandatory minimum penalties for crimes committed with guns, ending house arrest for those convicted of serious violent crimes and sexual offences, and other significant crime, such as major drug offences.
As I mentioned earlier, Bill C-10 includes a number of sentences for both use and non-use firearms offences with the stiffest penalties. The bill targets serious gun crimes committed by gangs or organized crime and the prohibitive weapons that they use.
In addition to this legislation, the federal government of course has a role to play in making funds available to help prevent crime before it happens. I am happy that the government has made investments in crime prevention and specifically to help at risk youth from becoming involved in criminal gangs, guns and drugs.
Funding is available to allow communities to examine issues surrounding gang involvement, create awareness of youth gang recruitment, prevention and intervention strategies, identify service gaps and best practices, and develop program responses.
Several activities have already started to fulfill the government's commitment to work with the provinces and territories to help communities provide hope and opportunity for our youth and end the cycle of violence that can lead to broken communities and broken lives.
I would like to speak for a moment on how the bill is consistent with the sentencing principles provided in the Criminal Code and charter rights. The Criminal Code provides that it is a fundamental principle of the Canadian sentencing regime that a sentence should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.
It also provides that the purpose of sentencing is to impose sanctions on offenders that are just, in order to contribute respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.
Accordingly, the objectives in sentencing are to denounce unlawful contact, deter the offender and others from committing offences, and separate offenders from society where necessary, as well as assist them in rehabilitating and accepting responsibility for their actions while repairing the harm they have caused to victims and their community.
The manner in which the higher mandatory penalties will apply under Bill C-10 is intended to ensure that they do not result in disproportionate sentences contrary to the charter. The higher levels of seven years for using a firearm and five years for non-use offences are reserved for repeat firearms offenders.
If an offender has a relevant recent history of committing firearms offences, it is not unreasonable to ensure that the specific sentencing goals of deterrence, denunciation and separation of serious offenders from society are given priority by the sentencing court.
The government considers that the mandatory penalties proposed in Bill C-10 are not only just but are also appropriately targeted at the specific problem which they seek to address; that is the new trend that has developed with respect to guns and gangs.
At the beginning of my remarks I mentioned that the government is determined to make Canadian streets safer, communities safer and to stand up for victims. The good news on this front is that we are only just getting started.