An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Vic Toews  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of June 14, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends various provisions of the Criminal Code in relation to criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other matters.

The amendments respecting criminal procedure provide for, among other things,

(a) the use of a means of telecommunication to forward warrants for the purpose of endorsement;

(b) changes to the process with respect to the challenge of jurors;

(c) a new election for the accused where a preferred indictment has been filed against him or her or where the Supreme Court of Canada orders a new trial;

(d) an appeal of a superior court order with respect to things seized lying with the court of appeal;

(e) summary dismissal by a single judge of the court of appeal when an appeal has erroneously been filed with that court; and

(f) a summary conviction trial with respect to co-accused that can proceed where one of the co-accused does not appear.

The amendments respecting the language of the accused clarify the application of provisions related to that matter.

The amendments respecting sentencing provide for, among other things,

(a) clarifications with respect to the application of impaired driving penalties;

(b) the power to order an offender not to communicate with identified persons while in custody and the creation of an offence for failing to comply with the order;

(c) the power to delay the sentencing proceedings so that an offender can participate in a provincially approved treatment program;

(d) an increase of the maximum fine that can be imposed for a summary conviction offence to $10,000 and a change with respect to the calculation of the period of imprisonment to be imposed in default of payment of a fine;

(e) the suspension of a conditional sentence order or a probation order during an appeal;

(f) in the case of a person serving a youth sentence who receives an adult sentence, clarification that the remaining portion of the youth sentence is converted to an adult sentence; and

(g) the power of a court to order, on application by the Attorney General and after convicting a person of the offence of luring a child by means of a computer system, the forfeiture of things used in relation to that offence.

The enactment amends the description of the offence of conveying information on betting and book-making so that the offence encompasses the conveying of that information by any means and makes related changes to the exemption provided with respect to the use of a pari-mutuel system.

Finally, amendments are also made to reclassify the offence of possession of break and enter instruments into a dual procedure offence.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2006 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Luc Harvey Conservative Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to recommend that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments) be referred to a committee for review.

A number of members have already expressed their support for this bill, which seeks to meet current needs, to propose legislative amendments to address procedural anomalies, to make corrections and to clarify current ambiguities in some Criminal Code provisions. It also modernizes other provisions by introducing the use of communication technologies.

This bill is the result of proposals made in cooperation with the provinces, the territories, interest groups—such as the Uniform Law Conference of Canada—representing linguistic minorities and the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The changes to Bill C-23 affect three main areas, namely criminal procedure, language of the accused and sentencing. I am going to review some of the changes proposed in this legislation, beginning with those affecting criminal procedure.

The purpose of one of the proposed amendments is to reclassify the offence of possession of break-in instruments into a dual procedure offence, that is an offence for which the prosecutor may proceed by way of indictable offence, or by way of summary conviction. Currently, under the Criminal Code, the indictable offence route is the only option for possession of break and enter instruments. However, experience has shown that this offence often results in a penalty similar to that imposed in the case of an offence punishable on summary conviction. Under the circumstances, it is important not to impose on the prosecutor the more onerous indictable offence route, when the outcome of the whole process is similar to that for an offence punishable on summary conviction.

As well, we note that the offence of possession of break-in instruments is often committed in conjunction with a second offence, breaking and entering a dwelling-house. The Criminal Code already provides that this is a hybrid offence, and so the prosecutor has the flexibility of choosing the most appropriate procedure having regard to the facts of the case. When the two offences are committed in the course of the same criminal operation, the present scheme in the Criminal Code means that even if it were more appropriate to prosecute the two offences by way of summary conviction, given that the facts are not extremely serious, the prosecutor may opt to proceed by way of indictment, the more onerous procedure, to avoid holding two separate trials. The proposed amendment in Bill C-23 therefore offers prosecutors greater flexibility, while promoting more judicious use of the resources of the judicial system.

Another amendment is designed to clarify an ambiguity in the present wording of the section dealing with where in Canada an offence that was committed outside our borders may, in certain cases, be tried. The present wording of section 481.2 of the Criminal Code could be interpreted as meaning that any offence committed outside Canada could be charged in Canada. The disastrous repercussions that this kind of interpretation could have on the resources of our courts can easily be imagined, not to mention the enormous challenges that this would present for prosecutors.

However, our law does provide for some exceptions under which it is possible to charge certain offences in Canada that were committed abroad. Examples are sexual offences involving children and terrorism. The proposed amendment will clarify the wording of section 481.2 to specify that those few exceptional offences, and only those offences, may be charged in any territorial division of Canada.

Another amendment clarifies the role of the Attorney General in private prosecutions, that is, prosecutions that are not initiated by the state, where a private information is laid with the court.

The Criminal Code provides that a justice will hold a hearing to determine whether there is justification for issuing a summons or a warrant for the arrest of an accused. The Criminal Code also provides that the Attorney General may participate in that proceeding, including by calling witnesses and presenting relevant evidence. However, the Criminal Code does not specify which Attorney General, provincial or federal, may do this.

The amendment clarifies that the term Attorney General means the Attorney General of Canada, where the offence in issue falls within his jurisdiction and the proceedings could have been commenced at his instance. Another change relates to the jury selection process. That amendment will remedy a flaw in the procedures for replacing a juror before any evidence has been introduced.

The Criminal Code provides that during jury selection, the prosecution and the defence are entitled to an equal number of peremptory challenges, that is, opportunities to reject a potential juror without having to state a reason. However, the Criminal Code is silent as to whether such challenges may be made when a new selection process is necessary to replace a juror who has been discharged before evidence was introduced. The proposed amendment provides that the prosecutor and the accused will each be entitled to one peremptory challenge for each juror to be replaced.

Another proposed amendment concerns jury selection and is designed to ensure the impartiality of jury members. Under certain circumstances, the jury selection process currently allows a prospective juror to be questioned in connection with his or her capacity to be impartial where the prosecutor and the accused are concerned. For example, questions may be asked regarding media coverage on the basis of which an individual might form an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused.

Under the existing process, this questioning takes place in the presence of those already selected as jury members.

There is a risk that answers provided by a prospective juror could bring to the notice of jury members information that is likely to affect their impartiality. The amendment would therefore enable the judge to order that jury members be removed from the courtroom for the duration of the questioning.

Another amendment would allow a judge of the court of appeal to dismiss an appeal summarily without calling on any person to attend the hearing when it appears that the appeal should have been filed with another court. Here again, this will streamline a process which is otherwise unnecessarily tedious.

With respect to linguistic rights, I would now like to address the proposed legislative amendments designed to improve and clarify the linguistic rights of the accused in a criminal trial.

As hon. members know, the right of the accused to a trial before a judge, or judge and jury, who speak the official language that is the language of the accused has been recognized for years now. This guarantee is the product of successive stages that have brought about gradual but definite changes over the past 30 years.

However, studies carried out by the Commissioner of Official Languages and by the Department of Justice have confirmed that there are still obstacles to the exercise of those rights and to the achievement of their ultimate objective, which is equal access to justice in both of Canada’s official languages.

At the same time, our courts continue to interpret, sometimes with contradictory results, the exact meaning of the rights set out in the Criminal Code. This causes delays, sometimes results in unequal application of the provisions from one region of Canada to another and causes uncertainty for judges, lawyers and the accused.

These rights represent an important element of the Canadian identity. As the Supreme Court has stated, language rights “are basic to the continued viability of the nation”. For that reason, the federal government has a duty to take positive measures to ensure the enforcement of those rights.

It is for the purpose of advancing the language rights of accused persons, to reduce obstacles to the exercise of those rights and to put an end once and for all to problems of interpretation that we are proposing legislative amendments.

To improve the efficiency of proceedings, it is essential that the accused person’s choice of the official language for legal proceedings be established as early as possible at the start of proceedings. However, the current provisions of the Criminal Code only require a judge before whom the accused appears to inform the accused of the right to a trial in either official language if the accused is not represented by a lawyer.

As the report of the Commissioner of Official Languages confirms, the lawyer for the accused is not always aware of the language rights applicable to criminal proceedings and does not inform his client of them in all cases.

The commissioner has therefore recommended that all the accused be informed of their right to a trial in either English or French. That is exactly what we are seeking to do with the amendments proposed today.

The Commissioner of Official Languages has also pointed out in her study that it would seem somewhat illogical to grant the accused person the right to a trial in the official language of his or her choice but to refuse access in that same language to the documents by virtue of which the accused has been brought before the courts.

The amendments we propose in the bill would correct that shortcoming and would enable an accused person to ask for a translation into his or her official language of the criminal charge or indictment.

The application of the current provisions of the Criminal Code to so-called “bilingual” trials has given rise to countless debates in the courts. It appears those debates are due to the vague wording of section 530.1. The Supreme Court of Canada however has stated that the enumeration of language rights set out in section 530.1 of the Code which, on the face of it, applies to a trial “in the language of the accused” must necessarily be interpreted as applying equally to a trial taking place in both official languages.

Still, some lower courts continue to adjudge that none of the rights listed applies to an accused who takes part in a bilingual trial. The proposed amendments would put an end to such equivocations.

When we examine all the amendments proposed, we can see that they are adjustments to existing rights and not drastic changes to the justice system but will be of great importance for the accused.

Furthermore, the proposals put an end to the interpretation difficulties identified in both jurisprudence and various government studies that currently prevent the legislator’s aims from being met and trials from being managed efficiently.

In short the proposals will ensure better access to justice in both of Canada’s official languages.

I would now like to discuss the amendments proposed in this bill with respect to sentencing. Without reviewing all the changes, I propose to examine a few of them.

Some of the amendments respecting sentencing are fairly substantive. I would like to mention them briefly and then go on to some other more technical changes provided for in this bill.

At present, the maximum fine for a summary conviction is $2,000, when no other maximum fine is provided for in a federal statute for a summary conviction.

This amount has been the same since 1985, although other specific monetary limits have been adjusted over the years.

Bill C-23 proposes that the maximum fine that a judge may impose for a summary conviction offence be raised to $10,000.

This change will allow the prosecution to proceed by way of summary conviction in a larger number of cases, where justified by circumstances, even though it may recommend the imposition of a higher fine.

For some, this new maximum fine may seem high. We must bear in mind, however, that this amount is the maximum a court may impose on an offender at its discretion.

Also, the Criminal Code provides that, before imposing a fine, the court cannot impose the fine unless it is convinced that the offender is able to pay it or to settle it in whole or in part by using other assets or through work performed under a provincial program, where such programs exist.

Another significant amendment aims to allow The sentencing judge to issue an order prohibiting the offender from communicating with any victim, witness or other person identified in the order during the custodial period of the sentence.

The Criminal Code currently provides for this type of order at various stages in the judicial process. For example, a judge may impose such an order when an accused is released on bail, held on remand or under a probation order.

However, the Criminal Code does not currently allow for such an order to apply during the period of incarceration of an individual convicted and sentenced to prison.

The existing measures at correctional institutions regarding undesirable communication from inmates are generally effective, however, and such situations are addressed on a case-by-case basis, following the procedures and policies in place.

The proposed amendment offers an additional protective measure by granting sentencing judges the power to prohibit an offender from communicating with a victim, witness or other individual identified in the order, for the duration of the period of incarceration.

The amendment also creates the offence of violating that order, punishable by a maximum of two year's incarceration.

I would now like to move on to the technical amendments regarding sentencing.

First, an amendment to section 720 of the Criminal Code is proposed. This amendment aims to allow the court to delay sentencing, when deemed appropriate, to enable the offender to attend a treatment program approved by the province or territory under the supervision of the court, such as an addiction treatment program or a domestic violence counselling program.

Indeed, Canada has tribunals that specialize in treating problems of domestic violence and substance abuse. In certain appropriate cases, referral to such programs can allow offenders struggling with these problems to demonstrate to the court that they are willing to take concrete action towards their social reintegration.

A certain number of technical amendments also aim to make clarifications regarding sentences imposed for impaired driving offences.

In view of the different judicial decisions regarding the application of minimum penalties for impaired driving offences causing bodily harm or death, some clarifications are being made to clarify the real intent behind these sentences. To this end, a provision is added to specify that the minimum penalties for simple impaired driving offences—such as refusal or failure to provide a breath sample—can be imposed on persons found guilty of a more serious impaired driving offence causing bodily harm or death.

This amendment will also help to clarify the fact that conditional sentences cannot be handed down in the more serious cases of repeated impaired driving since the Criminal Code does not permit this when a minimum prison sentence is provided.

A second amendment to clarify the application of impaired driving penalties pertains to offenders who participate in a provincial alcohol ignition interlock device program. A number of provinces have these programs, which enable offenders who have been prohibited by the courts from driving for a specified period to operate a vehicle if it is equipped with an alcohol ignition interlock device and after the expiry of the minimum prohibition period provided under the Criminal Code.

In order to tighten up this provision, the amendment clarifies the fact that offenders are only authorized to drive during their prohibition period if they are registered in an alcohol ignition interlock device program and comply with the terms and conditions of the program.

Other more technical amendments allow courts of appeal to suspend a conditional sentence order until the appeal has been heard and disposed of. This makes it possible to avoid cases in which conditional sentence orders expire before the appeal is heard.

Another amendment would also enable courts of appeal that have suspended a conditional sentence or probation order to require the offender to enter into an undertaking or recognizance that includes conditions similar to those found in cases of accused persons on interim release awaiting appeal.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2006 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague and I am in complete agreement: Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments) needs some fine tuning.

I trust that my colleague believes, as I do, that this is probably one of the most interesting pieces of legislation tabled by this government in the past few months. However, I would have this to say. Unlike Bills C-9 and C-10, Bill C-23seems very interesting at first glance. I believe that we, the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, should spend some time on it as it really strikes me as very important.

This is the question for my colleague: does she know whether or not the Law Commission of Canada—which our current government has just cut or would like to abolish—helped draft Bill C-23 and made any recommendations? In addition, are these the recommendations found in Bill C-23? If yes, which ones are they?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2006 / 12:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Translation is very important in this House.

Mr. Speaker, for the benefit of my colleague from the Bloc, I will repeat that having a bilingual trial is warranted where it involves co-accused who understand different official languages. That is a very important part of the bill.

Orders of prohibition from driving are being made consecutive. I will talk about that a bit later.

Another area that is substantive is allowing a sentencing delay to enable the offender to receive some treatment. This is a positive development in the bill.

Another change in the bill is proposing that two unsworn jurors decide whether the cause of challenge is true. I asked the parliamentary secretary to provide information but I did not get a clear answer in the House. When the bill gets to committee, I suppose we will get the real information as to why they are unsworn. I heard a partial answer, but this still needs clarifying.

Clauses 23 and 24 of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments) are concerned with changes to direct indictments. I believe we would want to hear more about these changes from criminal defence lawyers at committee. I would also like to hear some expert evidence on the area of the peremptory challenges which are affected by clauses 25 and 26 of the bill. Again, these are not matters that we have to debate at this stage, but I am flagging them so the government will be prepared to make sure these areas are contained.

With respect to subclause 8(3) of the bill which addresses consecutive periods of prohibition for driving, this may allow for extremely long prohibition times. This in turn could upset the balance in sentencing principles in section 718.2(c) of the Criminal Code. The court has an obligation to avoid unduly harsh or long consecutive sentences. We will have to take a look at this area.

I understand clause 37 of Bill C-23 has been proposed to address issues raised by some of the case law in the land. This clause adds a requirement for the court to explain to the offender the mandatory and optional conditions that the offender must meet as part of his probation. Does this mean that the judge should do this personally in court, or will delegation to court officials suffice? I had briefings in this area, but further explanation will be required. This would appear to revert to a former practice in the courtrooms in many years past.

Clause 9 of the bill changes the offence of possession of break-in instruments from an indictable offence to a dual procedure offence. That will obviously allow the prosecutor to make the choice to go with a summary conviction where it is deemed appropriate.

There are many more sections of Bill C-23 which I have not highlighted. The Library of Parliament has put out a very good summary for my colleagues to look at if they are interested in any of the specific sections of the bill. I think it is fair to say that the bill has been out since the summer time and I do not think it has attracted wide attention. I have consulted with some of the people who will have to use these sections in the courtrooms.

The bill quite rightly should go to committee. I encourage those most affected by the operations of these individual clauses to come to the committee as witnesses. We will have to deal with any piece of information or slight adjustment that may be required at that time.

In due course, if the House forwards the bill to the committee, which I believe it will do, we will have the opportunity to work further on sections of the bill. Unlike some of the other justice bills we are faced with in the House, this bill has less of an ideological bent. This is something that has been worked on over time by the provinces, territories and the federal government.

Many of these provisions take years to work through the system. Every once in a while this type of omnibus legislation is required where technical amendments are being made. Criminal law is a living statute. It benefits from being modernized by using our new technologies as has been suggested by some of the other speakers.

At this point, I see no real areas of ideological controversy or any other type of controversy. In due course, I could be corrected by experts who might come forward at committee stage and point out some serious flaws which at this stage of the game we have not seen.

I will be encouraging my caucus to move this bill forward to the committee stage. Each and every stage of a bill is important, but this is the preliminary stage and these changes could serve the justice system well in that administration.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2006 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, which is comprised of numerous unrelated amendments in relation to criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing, and some other matters.

From time to time this type of legislation is required to do a general cleanup of sections that need changes for either a practical reason, a legal reason or an administrative reason, and sometimes even for substantive modernization of sections of the Criminal Code.

This is a bill that should go to the committee for fine tuning and due consideration of each section. Amendments, where and if required, could be made at the committee.

This bill was read for the first time on June 22, 2006. I must say that in the past, briefings on new bills were provided to the opposition critics either shortly after the bill was introduced or upon request. It was always up to an opposition critic whether he or she wished to accept a departmental briefing. I certainly encourage the government to provide departmental briefings. As justice critic I had asked for a briefing on this bill back in June and again over the summer months. None was provided until the first week the House resumed sitting in mid-September.

I remind the government that it is a minority government supposedly wishing to pass legislation through this House.

When the government finally allowed access to the appropriate individuals who worked on this bill and were knowledgeable, they had been instructed that no paper briefing was required. Remember that there are 46 disparate parts to the bill.

The Minister of Justice in his first meeting at committee agreed that briefings are useful and we would be receiving them.

Briefings that are given to critics months after the request, or without some written information, are not as useful as they could be. I do not wish to leave any impression that those who provided the oral briefing from the Department of Justice were in any way unhelpful; they were not; it was more the timing and the documentation. This issue is more a political decision, certainly not a bureaucratic decision.

Since I have raised this more than once and I have tried to raise it privately, I am now raising it publicly because I believe it should be fixed for future bills. Most of us, and I would hope all of us actually, came here to do good policy work. There is no need to allow a political agenda to override working in the best interests of all Canadians, which does include full and timely briefings on procedures and for the bills that are laid before this House. I trust that this situation will now be corrected and will be rectified for future bills.

Today I pushed to have a briefing on a bill that is on the order paper for later this week and I was advised that it was done.

My point is that as a critic on government bills I should not have to be pushing to have a briefing from the government on a bill. The bureaucracy, the officials, the best known people working on that bill over a long period of time should not have to beg for this type of information. That information should be shared, especially if we are trying to move forward together on some of this implementation.

This bill, as I said before, includes 46 clauses. Not all are substantive amendments to the Criminal Code. For instance, the bill establishes the general rule that in criminal matters the service of any document and proof of service may be made in accordance with provincial law. This seems incredibly straightforward. I do not see problems with this. To reflect this rule, a number of the provisions of the code have been repealed.

Many of the provisions in Bill C-23 are as a result of consultation with the provinces and territories within the context of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada. Because many people in our system would not realize who provides input into these types of amendments, I thought I would put forward some of the information that I gleaned about this organization from its website and other places.

The Uniform Law Conference of Canada operates in two sections, one being the criminal section and the other being the civil section.

The criminal section unites prosecutors for federal, provincial and territorial governments with defence counsel and judges to consider proposals to amend criminal laws which are mainly under the federal authority of Canada through the Criminal Code of Canada. Since the administration of criminal justice is undertaken by the territories and provinces, they are the administrators of the systems.

The meetings of the criminal section give the provinces and the territories a chance to ask questions of the federal government and suggest ways to make the system better and reflect the challenges they come across in their day to day operations in performing that administration service. Often they suggest changes based on identified deficiencies or detect gaps in existing law, or it could be problems created by judicial interpretation of existing law. The annual meetings of this conference are not public ones but they are attended by persons designated by their respective governments at the federal, provincial and territorial levels.

The Uniform Law Conference is a volunteer organization. Its work over the years has been extremely useful to the justice system in the land, but it has been relatively unheralded. Like many volunteer organizations in Canada, it is important to recognize and acknowledge its valuable work.

I want to pass now to some of the examples of substantive changes contained in Bill C-23. The first one I will talk about is the default maximum fine for a summary conviction which is being increased from $2,000 to $10,000. Also, we have the realm of having bilingual trials warranted where they involve co-accused who understand different official languages. I also think that this is a good advance.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2006 / 12:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to exploring in committee all areas of the bill and this question and all questions the hon. member may have, which can be put to our witnesses there. Some of the provisions dealing with jurors have dealt with not wanting to taint the sworn jurors when there are questions being put to potential jurors by crown attorneys and by defence lawyers. This is one area relating to jurors which we have to address to ensure that people get a fair trial.

Most of what is contained in Bill C-23 is there to streamline our judicial process, to make it more effective and to take out some of the ancient modes used in the past. Bill C-23 recognizes that we are living in a new era where we have to use a more streamlined system. It recognizes that technology has moved on, so we as a government have to move on in order to better protect society.

That is the main thrust of the bill. It is not to make major substantive changes. We have other bills, such as Bills C-9 and C-10, that make some very substantive changes to the Criminal Code. Bill C-23 is going to make our entire system more streamlined without making major changes to the code itself.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2006 / 12:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-23 makes note of “by any means of telecommunication”. The hon. member made note of that in his question.

Bill C-23 in many ways recognizes that there has been a great change in our society and in technology since many of these provisions were put in place. For example, 20 years ago people would not have contemplated that someone would use a computer and something called the Internet to lure a child and potentially commit a further criminal offence. That is why this bill seeks to attack the issue of Internet luring. It has become very serious. We have heard testimony about it over the last couple of years. We have heard disturbing reports of people using computers and the Internet to lure children, even from outside Canada.

Our Criminal Code has to evolve with evolving technology. The hon. member points out a provision in the bill that does this. As I mentioned on the subject of Internet luring, for example, this bill provides that the mode used to commit the offence, the computer, can be forfeited to the Crown. Under current law, that is not the case.

We want to put a little more teeth into our laws to allow our justice system to better protect all Canadians, but as the hon. member pointed out, we also have to recognize that society and technology are advancing and the Criminal Code has to adapt. For example, it is being brought up to date so that a fax machine can be used for some of these orders, and even fax machines are getting to be behind the times. This is an effort to keep the Criminal Code in some way up to date with the times.

As well, the maximum fine for a summary conviction is $2,000, which in 2006 is not what it was 20 years ago. Criminals recognize that. The profit margins that can be gained by criminal organizations and offenders may far outweigh the fines, so we need to bring this more into step with today's current realities.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2006 / 12:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her work on the justice committee and on these issues and the many bills we are putting forward as a government.

As I stated, these provisions draw on input that we received from across Canada. These provisions and the streamlining are measures that provinces have called for.

I used as an example the issue of using a fax machine. That brings us into the modern era. Rather than having someone such as a police officer, who could be out on the street protecting citizens, doing the mundane task of getting an original signature, under Bill C-23 we would be able to use a fax machine.

On raising the $2,000 fine for a conditional sentence, that maximum was last revisited in 1985. As we know, the price of almost everything has gone up. This will give prosecutors the means to proceed by way of summary conviction, which will do more to unclog the court system when a fine of more than $2,000 is sought. They will still be able to achieve that greater fine by going by way of summary conviction.

I will say to the hon. member that the bill does draw on the input from a broad section of input from across Canada. Certainly this is being called for by those who work in the criminal justice system. They want us to make our criminal justice system more streamlined and more effective so that our police can be out enforcing the laws rather than going through greater bureaucracies.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2006 / noon
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Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments). The government has already presented important measures in the House that aim at providing better protection for Canadians against crime.

Bill C-23 responds to the government's multifaceted goal of tackling crime by strengthening sentencing measures, enhancing the efficiency of certain procedures and improving access to justice by clarifying court related language rights provisions in criminal proceedings. Most of these amendments are the result of changes that the provinces, territories and other stakeholders have been instrumental in helping our government identify.

Hon. members will appreciate that Bill C-23 is not about fundamental law reform. Rather, it is about fine tuning. While the amendments contained in Bill C-23 are generally of a technical nature, they are nonetheless important. These amendments can be divided into three major groups. I propose to first highlight some of the criminal procedure amendments. I will then say a few words with respect to the amendments proposed to the language rights provisions of the Criminal Code. Finally, I will detail some of the sentencing amendments.

First, let me deal with criminal procedure.

Criminal procedure amendments would, among other things, improve procedural efficiencies and rectify certain shortcomings in criminal proceedings. Other amendments would confirm the intent behind some criminal procedure provisions and clarify their application. For instance, a corrective amendment is needed to rectify the situation by which the appeal route of a Superior Court judge's order is to return seized property to another judge of the same court. This is obviously problematic. In order to make this appeal route consistent with other similar appeal route processes and to avoid the unusual situation whereby a judge is called upon to review the decision of a fellow judge from the same level of court, the amendment would provide that the appeal of a superior court in relation to the forfeiture of things seized would lie with the Court of Appeal rather than with the Superior Court.

Another amendment would bring more clarity to section 481.2 of the Criminal Code, which deals with the ability to charge and try an accused in any territorial division for an act or omission committed outside of Canada. This amendment would clarify that the intent would not be to make any criminal act or omission committed outside of Canada an offence in Canada. Usually offences are prosecuted in the territorial division where they are committed. This, however, poses a difficulty with respect to those offences that, while having been committed outside of Canada, can be prosecuted in our country in accordance with a federal statute. War crimes are examples of such offences.

Unfortunately, the current wording of section 481.2 leaves room for interpretation whereby any offence committed outside of Canada could be prosecuted here, and that is clearly not the case. The amendment would now make it clear that this provision would deal strictly with court jurisdiction and would act as a residual clause where proper court jurisdiction with respect to territorial division would not otherwise be provided for in another federal statute.

Another criminal procedure amendment is proposed with respect to the right of an accused to be tried before a judge, sitting without a jury, where an indictment has been preferred; that is, where the Crown files the indictment directly before the Superior Court. Currently, when this is the case, the accused may not, without the written consent of the Crown prosecutor, choose to be tried before a court sitting without a jury. The amendment would allow the accused to elect to be tried before a Superior Court judge, sitting without a jury, subject to certain conditions. This amendment would introduce more flexibility and would assist in avoiding unnecessary jury trials where the accused would prefer to be tried by a judge alone.

Another proposed amendment will streamline the process for executing search warrants in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the search warrant has been issued. Currently, before a search warrant can be executed in another province, it must be presented to a judge or a justice in the other jurisdiction for endorsement in its original paper form. Obviously, this can be time consuming, complicated and inefficient. This process is resource intensive and very time consuming. The proposed amendment will allow the search warrant to be sent by facsimile or by another means of telecommunication, thereby permitting a copy of the search warrant to be endorsed by a judge or a justice in that other jurisdiction.

By taking advantage of technologies that are both reliable and expedient, we are making better use of the time and resources of law enforcement agencies.

Bill C-23 also contains two amendments in relation to jury selection. When selecting jurors, the Crown and the defence are each afforded a certain number of peremptory challenges; that is the ability to unilaterally reject a potential juror without having to invoke any specific ground. One proposed amendment will fill a gap in the current scheme by clarifying that peremptory challenges will also be available where a sworn juror is excused before the evidence is heard and where a replacement juror must be selected.

The other proposed amendment will assist in preserving the impartiality of prospective jury members, as well as sworn jurors, by providing the court with the power to order the exclusion of jurors from the courtroom where a potential juror is being questioned in the course of a challenge for cause and may potentially through his or her answers inadvertently jeopardize the jurors impartiality.

These technical yet practical changes to the various processes that operate in the criminal justice system will contribute to the improvement and greater efficiency of criminal procedure.

I will speak a bit about language rights. The amendments in Bill C-23 with respect to language rights deal with an accused person during a criminal proceeding. The right of all accused to a trial in either official language is consistent with both the letter and the spirit of the language provisions enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1867, and in section 19 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Since 1978, the Criminal Code has sought to ensure access to services of equal quality for members of both official language communities. This is an important objective because, as the Supreme Court of Canada noted, “Rights regarding the English and French languages are basic to the continued viability of the nation”.

From time to time it becomes necessary for Parliament to intervene to provide the means by which such rights can be enjoyed.

Canadians have told us there are still obstacles to full and equal access to the criminal justice system in one's own official language. Court decisions, as well as reports by the Commissioner of Official Languages, confirm that barriers continue to stand in the way of the exercise of these fundamental rights. The proposed amendments will bring the Criminal Code provisions in line with judicial interpretation, thereby avoiding misunderstandings, legal debates and costly delays. One example of such difficulties involves the application of the language provisions of the Criminal Code to bilingual trials. In R. v. Beaulac, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that all the rights that are provided to an accused person in the context of a trial in one official language also apply to bilingual trials. Yet the lower courts are still struggling with these issues as well as with the practical manner in which bilingual trials are to be held.

The proposed amendments clarify such matters and specify that the right of an accused person to be tried by a judge, who speaks the official language of the accused, as well as the duty of the Crown prosecutor to speak that language, indeed do apply to bilingual trials. The amendments also provide the presiding judge with the necessary tools to manage bilingual trials in a fair and efficient manner. In doing so, the amendments implement recommendations made by the commissioner of official languages in 1995 that certain amendments be made to section 530 of the Criminal Code.

The commissioner's study also identified another vexing problem. The study noted that difficulties had arisen in a situation where there were co-accused who did not speak the same official language and that, in the absence of clear indications in the Criminal Code, the matter was being raised more and more frequently.

Some courts have ordered that each co-accused be tried separately in his or her official language. Such decisions have significant repercussions on court resources, as they involve a duplication of trials. They also offend the general principle that persons who are jointly accused should normally be tried together. On the other hand, some courts have ruled that the right of each accused can be reconciled by ordering a bilingual trial.

The proposed amendment brings clarity to the issue by stipulating that the situation of a joint trial involving co-accused, who do not share the same official language, warrants an order for a trial before a judge or judge and jury who speak both official languages. Such an amendment not only brings greater clarity to the code, but also ensures that a proper balance is struck between the rights of the accused person and the efficient administration of justice.

When taken as a whole, the proposed amendments are balanced and fair. They will resolve a number of problems that have been identified with the existing provisions, bringing greater efficiency and putting an end to some persistent legal debates, while also removing some of the hurdles on the road to a greater access to justice in both official languages in our country.

I now turn to the issue of sentencing and I will highlight some of the amendments that are proposed to the sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code.

Bill C-23 contains a number of proposed amendments, some of which will clarify how certain sanctions are intended to apply. Others will improve existing processes or update the law in this area. For instance, one amendment will allow a sentencing court to refer an offender, under the supervision of the court and in appropriate circumstances, to a provincially or territorially approved treatment program before sentence is imposed. In the right circumstances and where appropriate, addiction treatment programs and domestic violence counselling programs can contribute to public protection from crimes where the underlying causes are addiction or where there has been family violence.

Early court supervised access by offenders to these treatment programs can serve as a strong incentive for behavioural change and successful rehabilitation. Specialized drug treatment courts, such as the ones in place in Toronto and Vancouver, are based on the U.S. model that works to adjourn sentencing proceedings, following a finding of guilt, to allow the offender to enter and to complete a court mandated program. By delaying sentencing until the completion of the program, the offender is given a strong incentive to succeed.

Domestic violence courts or court processes have also been implemented in a number of jurisdictions across Canada. These specialized courts include education, counselling or treatment programs for offenders aimed at reducing the offending behaviour.

Allowing sentencing courts to refer offenders in appropriate circumstances to such programs before sentence is imposed will promote early access to rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, thereby contributing to the protection of the public by attacking the source of the problem at an earlier stage.

Another proposed amendment to the sentencing proceedings will provide appeal courts with the power to suspend a conditional sentence order until the appeal is determined. Currently what can sometimes happen is that the conditional sentence is served before the appeal from sentence or conviction is heard. This amendment will ensure consistency with similar appeal court powers, such as in the case of a probation order where a suspension of the sentence, until the appeal is determined, is already provided.

A related amendment, applicable to both conditional sentence orders and probation orders, would allow the court that imposed one of these two sentences the power to bind the person until the appeal would be determined with conditions similar to those imposed on an accused person who is released on bail.

One amendment is also proposed to update the provision with respect to forfeiture of computer systems and other things used in the commission of certain child pornography offences by adding to the existing list of offences the offence of luring a child by means of a computer, so a court may also order the forfeiture and disposal of computers where the offender is convicted of luring a child.

With respect to clarifying current penalties, one Criminal Code proposed amendment will expressly state that where no maximum jail term is provided in a federal statute for an offender who is in default of a monetary penalty imposed for an indictable offence, the maximum term of imprisonment will be five years.

Penalties for impaired driving offences where there is a death or injury are also clarified by an amendment so that there is no uncertainty: minimum fines and jail terms that must be imposed for a first, second or subsequent driving offence, such as failure or refusal to provide a breath sample, must also be imposed when the impaired driving offender is convicted of the more serious offences of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.

This amendment will mean that conditional sentence orders cannot be imposed for impaired driving offences causing injury or death, as the Criminal Code does not authorize the imposition of such orders for an offence where a minimum penalty is provided.

Other impaired driving offences will tighten and clarify application of driving prohibition orders, including the application of ignition interlock device programs, with a possibility of early return to driving where the program is in place.

Bill C-23 will also increase the current $2,000 maximum fine that can be imposed for a summary conviction. This amount has remained untouched since 1985, while the monetary values for other offences have increased. It is time to update the law in this area by raising the maximum monetary penalty to $10,000. The increase will provide more flexibility for crown prosecutors to proceed by way of summary conviction, in particular where the sanction sought is a higher amount than $2,000.

Before I conclude, there is one final sentencing amendment that I feel should be highlighted, that is, the amendment with respect to victims of unwanted communications.

Such orders can already be imposed on an accused person in remand or released on bail as well as on an offender who is on probation. Current disciplinary measures in correctional institutions with respect to unwanted communications vary among jurisdictions, with most cases being addressed on a case by case basis.

This amendment will provide sentencing courts with an added means to protect victims from unwanted communications by providing the sentencing court with the power to order a convicted person not to communicate with identified persons such as victims and witnesses while the person is incarcerated.

In addition, it will be an offence to breach an order not to communicate with an identified person.

In conclusion, I wish to state that in contemplating criminal law reform we must not lose sight of the system in which these substantive provisions of the Criminal Code operate. It is important that we take the time to respond to calls for changes such as the ones highlighted today, so that our criminal justice system can most effectively contribute to the protection of society. That, I trust, is the goal of all parliamentarians in this place.

The House resumed from October 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

October 5th, 2006 / 3 p.m.
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Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, today we will continue to debate an opposition motion.

Tomorrow, we will complete debate on the amendment to Bill C-24, the softwood lumber agreement. Under a special order adopted Tuesday, there is an opportunity to sit into the weekend if needed to give members, particularly members of the New Democratic Party, the debating time they requested on such an important bill.

Next week, the House will be adjourned to allow members to return to their ridings.

When the House resumes on October 16, we will debate Bill C-23, the Criminal Code; Bill S-2, hazardous materials; and Bill C-6, aeronautics.

On Tuesday I will call Bill C-24 again. Thursday will be an allotted day.

We will introduce the motion that the hon. member requested in due course.

At the same time, I would like to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2006 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-23 is a series of amendments to the Criminal Code with regard to, primarily, criminal procedure but also with regard to some changes in the sentencing provisions in the code and some, what I would see as improvements in the language rights of people who are accused and appearing before our courts.

I know I sound like a broken record but I will be raising, as I have just about every time I have spoken to a bill, particularly a crime bill from the government, the need for a major overhaul of our Criminal Code. It is long overdue. It is not in the process at all. The government has made no serious attempt to bring the Criminal Code into the 21st century. In some respects, this mini omnibus bill is a reflection of the need we have to reform and, in many respects, rewrite our Criminal Code.

The code contains serious contradictions and gross inconsistencies, both in crimes and the sentencing that we apply to crimes, crimes in some cases where the maximum penalty is way out of line with the seriousness of the offence in the sense that it is either way too low or, in other cases, way too high.

This is not just an academic discussion. The courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court, have made it very clear, particularly with regard to the sentencing provisions within our Criminal Code, that there has to be a reasonable proportionality between the seriousness of the offence and the sentence that is imposed. I believe we are at risk at some point of defence lawyers beginning to consistently challenge, I believe ultimately successfully, a number of provisions within the Criminal Code in that the penalties are widely disproportional to the severity of the crime and grossly inconsistent with other crimes that I believe objectively most people would say are less severe but have greater penalties. That is just one example of the problems in the code as we have it.

We have not had a major revision to our Criminal Code since, I believe, sometime in the 1970s. We are getting on close to 40 years since there was an overall to the code, and even that was not a complete revamping of it.

I compare that to the number of times this has occurred in other common law jurisdictions around the globe. A number of states in the U.S., in England, Australia and New Zealand, countries like that, have all done much better, more efficient and more timely work on their criminal codes than we have.

I believe this problem is heightened now by what happened a week ago when the government, in a very arbitrary manner, decided to kill the Law Commission, which was probably, in my opinion, the only body in the country that could have organized the necessary talent and brought it together. I do not think there is one institution, one law school or even the Law Commission itself that would not have had the resources or the talent, quite frankly, to be able to prepare a draft Criminal Code in order to update it and bring it into the 21st century.

The Law Commission will be gone if the government is successful in its meanspirited approach to that particular institution, an institution that is renowned in the common law jurisdictions around the globe. It is interesting to read the number of commentaries that have come in from our Commonwealth partners in particular about the work the Law Commission has done. It has done cutting-edge work that a number of other countries have looked to and, in some cases, used extensively in revamping various parts of their justice system and their laws.

It will be a real shame if the government is ultimately successful in destroying that institution because with the kind of problems we have with our Criminal Code it will no longer be a resource that is necessary to get the draft of the code in place so that it can be considered by the House at some time in the future.

Some of the changes the Conservatives are proposing in this mini omnibus bill reflect the technological advances that have been made but have not been taken into account. I will use a simple example. Under the Criminal Code, as it is now, we can send documentation by fax machine to other jurisdictions and the document that comes out of the fax machine is sufficient for the court to use as proof of the validity of the document and it can then be used in the court proceedings in the new jurisdiction. However, this cannot be done by telecommunication. An email cannot be sent the same way. The bill, assuming it passes, will allow the criminal justice system to use that advance in telecommunications.

Another provision to which I think we are all sensitive is communication equipment, computers, et cetera, that are used for the purposes of child pornography or luring children. The Criminal Code has no provision for that equipment to be seized after an accused has been convicted. It is just a blank because 10 or 12 years ago the Internet did not exist for mass use and, therefore, there was no need for that provision.

This is yet another example of where we need to update the Criminal Code in order for our courts to be able to adequately deal with convicted persons and dealing not only in penalties of imprisonment or fines but also being able to seize the equipment that they used to perpetrate those crimes. Both of those are clear examples where the Criminal Code has not been able to keep up with technological changes in our society.

Another proposed amendment is to modernize how we deal with betting and bookmaking. As it stands right now in the code, there are quite severe limitations on what that means and a great deal of bookmaking at this point is conducted by way of modern technology, telecommunications, computers, et cetera. As those crimes are now defined in the code, when they are performed that way they are almost certainly not crimes under the code. We need to update that and say that the conduct is the same as it would be if one were running numbers and communicating those by way of a computer over the Internet that would now be a crime. It is not at the present time, which is why the code needs to be updated.

All of those are clear examples of the inadequacy of the Criminal Code in this country at this time and they are a clear reflection of the need for a major overhaul of the code. It is so confusing and so complicated it really impairs our ability to run an efficient justice system.

However, because the government is much more concerned with the hot button items, we consistently see, time after time, very short bills coming through dealing with one hot button crime to draw attention in the electorate, but, quite frankly, in a very cynical way, having no intention of dealing with the problems in this Parliament.

We were doing some scheduling work in the justice committee yesterday and it will not see this bill, assuming it gets through second reading and out of the House, until the fall of next year and it may even be into 2008 before the committee sees it because it is that backlogged. We have many bills and we have been told that we will get two more the week after the break. The list seems to be unending.

Rather than dealing with this in a reasonable fashion and recognizing that it has to stop playing politics with crime, the criminal justice system and policing in this country, the government moved to do an omnibus review of the Criminal Code and brought back a whole new code to Parliament. As long as the present government is in power, which, hopefully, will not be for too long, we will continue to see consistently small bills coming through addressing hot button items that will have no chance of ever being dealt with by Parliament simply because the justice committee is so backlogged already.

With regard to the balance of the bill, I want to address some comments to the sentencing provisions generally, but the specific concern I have is with the increase in the fines for summary conviction offences. Those are the lower offences in terms of seriousness as opposed to indictable offences.

Fines used to be $1,000 and then they were increased to $2,000 back some time in the 1970s or 1980s, about 20 or 25 years ago. The government is now proposing to increase the $2,000 fine by a multiple of five to $10,000.

The concern I have is that those summary conviction offences tend to be the lower end ones. They tend to involve, in a vast majority of cases, individuals who are at the lower end of the socio-economic levels in our society and who would be most affected negatively in terms of their ability to pay fines. It appears, whether it is intended or not, and with the present government we never know for sure given some of the vindictiveness in its cuts last week, that the government is intentionally targeting that lower socio-economic group within our society.

However, whether it is intentionally targeting that lower socio-economic grouping within our society or not, we will end up, almost certainly, with more people from that lower socio-economic grouping being incarcerated in our provincial prisons.

This would have a double impact. It, obviously, would have a very negative impact on those particular individuals, and unfairly so compared to people who have a better economic status, but it is also a form of downloading responsibility on to the provinces. The federal government is attempting to pass a law that will require the provincial governments to increase the number of cells they have because of the number of people they will now have incarcerated in their prisons because of these new offences. If those individuals cannot pay the fine they will be going to provincial prisons, not federal prisons.

We know, from all sorts of evidence that we heard fairly recently at the justice committee, that our provincial jails are way overcrowded. There is not one province in this country that does not need additional cells. In some cases, particularly in the provinces where there is less wealth, there is a very strong need for their prisons to be expanded. This would only dump more people into those provincial jails with the end result being that the provinces will need to find ways to pay for it.

This is a double whammy because our provincial jails have no more capacity. Not only will we have an increase in the yearly administration costs, because so many more people will be incarcerated, but the provinces will need to move out substantial amounts of capital dollars to build additional prisons at the provincial level. With those huge amounts of capital dollars that will go out, there will be substantial increases in their yearly administration and operation costs for those same jails.

There was no proposal in the last budget, and no proposal with regard to this legislation or any of those other crime bills we have seen, for the federal government to give any additional money to the provinces to respond to the need that is going to be created by the federal government but dumped on them, leaving them the responsibility to find dollars in order to be able to house these additional convicted criminals in a prison setting.

We need to take a very close look at this when it gets to committee, assuming it gets there, as to whether the fine should be increased to $10,000 or to an amount that is perhaps more in keeping with inflation since the last time the amendment was made to the level of fines for summary convictions.

I am conscious of the time. If I have time, I will come back to the sentencing issue in a few minutes, but I do want to speak about two other issues.

One issue is procedural. It is with regard to these relatively minor but important changes that need to be made when we are selecting juries. Basically what is happening is that if a juror is being challenged for what we say is “cause”, the cause being some declared bias either against the accused who is before the courts or the Crown, that juror can be challenged in appropriate circumstances. It has been difficult in the past to determine how we decide whether the evidence we are getting from that prospective juror is sufficient to show a conflict and a bias to the extent that he or she would be excluded.

The amendment being proposed, which I think is a good one, is that if jurors are already selected, we would allow two jurors to make a determination, a finding, in effect, taking the place of the judge, as to whether the person has a clear bias and should be excluded from the panel.

If we do not have sufficient jurors already on the panel, then two would be picked at random from the general panel sitting in the courtroom at the time. They would be sworn in and would be required to make a decision as to the bias of the juror in question and determine whether the juror is to be excluded or included in the panel.

I think that is a major step forward in the jury selection process. I think it makes it more credible. It makes it more accountable to the panel of jurors that is there.

There are some additional provisions to clarify the availability of a person's right to use the alternate official language from the one that is customarily used in the court. There have been some problems with that as to when it is available. Oftentimes it crops up when there are co-accused, each of whom has as his or her primary language one of the official languages but not the same one. There is clarification in this bill, which I believe will go some distance toward rectifying some of the problems our judges have had in determining how extensively available trials in both official languages are in this country. That is a major change, one that would be welcome.

With regard to a number of other criminal procedural matters, again, it is a criticism of both the previous government and the current one that we have not done these before. They are quite straightforward. They should have been done a long time ago. In some cases, these problems were identified as long as 10 to 12 years ago and we are just now getting around to it. We have no way of knowing whether we are actually going to get through this bill, as I said earlier, but it may be some time down the road.

Let me conclude, in my last minute, by saying that we badly need a total revamp of our Criminal Code. This bill is a clear example of all sorts of corrections to the code, corrections that have been needed for a long time. We are probably not going to get to them in this Parliament. I keep emphasizing the need for this major revamp and reform so that our Criminal Code is in the 21st century, not back in the 1900s.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2006 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his examples from the United States. We all know how fond the other side is of following whatever is done in the United States.

Let me correct what he may think about the State of New York. Yes, George Pataki was the conservative republican governor who came in. Yes, he is the governor under whose administration most of the mandatory minimum sentences in the State of New York have been revoked. This is Bill C-10 for the member's information.

The mandatory minimums in that state have completely been removed. I know it is not popular, but the facts show it does not work.

We have to be oriented toward the facts in all of these cases. I was simply saying on Bill C-23 that these are good amendments. The fact is they were born by contests in the Court Challenges Program and the good work of the Law Commission. Now we do not have these programs, so we will probably not have a Bill C-23 in the future.

I would like to agree with the member that these are good reforms and they will improve our society and make them better. Basically, they are the fruit of Liberal institutions.

We will see if the member will put his vote where his mouth is and vote against this Liberal bill presented under the guise of the Conservative government and truly not want more safety in our community which this side wants.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2006 / 4:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am acquainted with the hon. member. We worked very hard and diligently on Bill C-2, the accountability act. I am very familiar with his absolute ability to have a drive-by political bombast, as we just witnessed.

If there was a question there, the question should have been on Bill C-23, but I will underline that this party is about keeping communities safe. This party, on this side, does care about victims' rights, which is precisely why, and it is so evident in the member's question and comment, we like to take a fact-based approach.

We would have appreciated the Minister of Justice and the parliamentary secretary coming to the justice committee with some studies or some facts to back up their storefront democracy version of events. This suggests that these laws that they are proposing, mostly written on the backs of napkins and usually three pages in length, are the panacea, and that they do not give people out there a false sense of security.

We believe in keeping communities safe and spending some of that $13.2 billion in surplus on resources in the community. I would love to discuss this with the hon. member and have him say that we are not giving enough to the police forces in our communities, that we have cut $4.6 million from a trial project administered by the RCMP, who they so steadfastly support and so do we, for drug-impaired reactions.

I know it is very difficult for members opposite to focus on what is before them, but this bill is the fruit of the good work of people at the Law Commission, and people in the Department of Justice. It is a good bill, having nothing to do with the Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary and the members opposite.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2006 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today on Bill C-23, which will amend the Criminal Code in several respects.

This is an omnibus bill concerned more particularly with criminal procedure, the language of the accused, sentencing, and other changes.

The proposed legislation is essentially a cleanup bill with the objectives of ensuring that the Criminal Code is up to date and to maximize its efficiency. Bill C-23 includes many substantive amendments to the Criminal Code, changes that touch on a number of issues, mostly to modernize the Criminal Code.

This is why we believe that this bill, if sent to committee to be thoroughly examined, would result in good law. At committee, experts can be called as witnesses to give evidence on the efficacy of each section of the amendments, whereby we might get closer to improving the Criminal Code, which we all recognize is a tired, well-worn and incomplete document for our criminal justice system, but it is the best we have had.

I do give compliments to the other side in suggesting that the Criminal Code was the child of a Conservative finance minister and subsequent prime minister in the 1880s. It has been patchworked together over the years, but no full and final revision of a modern Criminal Code has been undertaken, and it is long overdue.

However, this bill seeks to band-aid and fix up what we can to modernize certain sections of the code and we on this side welcome its implementation.

Some clauses included in Bill C-23 are aimed at keeping up with today's society, such as increasing the maximum fine for a summary conviction offence from $2,000 to $10,000. Although this might seem to be quite a jump, I believe that judges, with their cautious deference to the circumstances that exist, will use fair determinations to determine if an accused, based on capacity to pay, can make the payments and if the amount of the fine is indeed proportional to the person's capacity to pay.

Here I want to interject something that I think is very important to the whole tableau of justice bills that are before the House in this session. The 39th Parliament has seen a plethora of legal bills, but many of them and many of the actions of the government, despite the inundation of law, have really ripped apart the sense that we respect the judiciary.

I think of the delayed report on justices' salaries, now further delayed, we understand today. I think of the comments made by the Prime Minister of Canada in this House that Liberal lawyers were running the court challenges program. I think of the comments made by the Minister of Justice at the Canadian Bar Association conference in St. John's, and of those of the Prime Minister about Liberal judges made on occasions during the campaign of December and January of last year .

Notwithstanding that everybody might have a problem with certain appointments, when a judge becomes a member of the bench, he is a judge. He is an “Honourable Justice”. He is an interpreter of the laws. He deserves all of that respect.

The government has done nothing to further the cause of respect for the judiciary. It may be the on first day of civics class in grade 1 or grade 10, or in undergraduate or law school, that one learns that unless people have respect for the law through its judges, the law will not have the impact we all need it to have.

As the member for the riding of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, which is probably the most bilingual and most bicultural riding in the country, I am happy to see that Bill C-23 will reinforce the right of accused to be tried in the official language of their choice, and more particularly, the right to a bilingual trial in cases where two or more accused speak different official languages.

This is an important measure to ensure that all Canadians can have justice in either official language. As I was saying, in my community it would not be uncommon for an anglophone and a francophone to be tried together. The change to the law and the proposed amendments will ensure a trial in the preferred language of the accused. This is basic to our judicial system and would be just and fair.

At this time, I would also like to interject that this side of the House is for safer communities. This side of the House is for law and order. This side of the House is for the victims of crime as much as anything else that we stand for.

We differ in the ways to ensure that victims are safe in their communities. It is not enough to grandstand with bills that have catchy titles and catch the six o'clock news. To make people feel that they are going to be safer, the laws have to be effective. For the laws to be effective, institutions like the Law Commission and programs like the court challenges program are essential to ensure that we have a just and equitable society and that people feel safe in their communities.

More than that, in the situation and the environment where there is some $13.2 billion in surplus, we need to see that there are more resources in the community to enforce the law and to enforce programs that the police forces believe in, such as problem-oriented policing, which means having the police presence in the schools and in the community to prevent crime from happening. And that is to say nothing about the whole concept of rehabilitation, which must wait for another day.

Another aspect of the bill that I find very interesting, at least in principle, is the aspect of the issues surrounding subsequent prohibition from driving for consecutive offenders on impaired driving charges. As a father of three beautiful young girls, it enrages me to hear on the news of repeat drunk drivers and the menace they pose to our society.

I am proud to say that the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a New Brunswicker. I am proud to say that the very first meeting I had in my constituency office was with the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I know it is especially important to look and to act as if we as parliamentarians care about what happens when someone gets behind the wheel of a car impaired, not for the first time and certainly not for the last time if they do not get consecutive sentences that restrain them from driving.

Some people cannot get the message. They must be restrained from driving. This bill does that. It is long overdue. I think all sides can agree with the wise impact of that amendment. We often learn in these cases that it is these irresponsible individuals who have been arrested many times before for drunk driving and are out again in the community posing danger to our community.

However, here is where I must interject as well. In recent announcements by the government, $4.6 million has been cut from a pilot program administered or put in place by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to determine if someone is impaired from drug use while driving. While the acronym MADD might stand for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, they might as well be MAID, mothers against impaired driving. It matters not the source of the stupefier or the ingested product, whether it is alcohol or drugs. What matters is the danger to our innocent public.

It is insincere to cut this program on the one hand and on the other hand suggest that this law is in step with what the government feels. Through Bill C-23, the government has added prohibitions that were long thought of, but on the other hand it has stopped a program that might easily identify people who are impaired from other sources. It completely misses the mark. It is completely inconsistent. It makes me think that the Minister of Justice has not thought through the implications of his whole dossier in justice.

Of course, justice should not just be about more severe sentences and longer jail terms. Justice is about making our country safer. I strongly believe that this is not done by locking up criminals and throwing away the key. It is done through prevention, to protect potential victims from living through the recurrence of dramatic events. When it is not possible to prevent crimes, I believe justice is done through proper treatment to ensure criminals understand what they have done. This should, we all hope, be the first step in rehabilitating them and preventing further crimes. Again, our concern is about the victims: prevention of crime.

Bill C-23 is proposing to allow a sentencing delay in order to enable the offender to receive treatment. Bravo. This is finally the government suggesting that it believes in principles of sentencing other than deterrence and denunciation. It makes me think again that this bill, which we support, really is not a bill of the government. This was not the brainchild of the government. This is a fix-up bill that was well under way prior to the change in government.

So I must applaud the other side for seeing the sense in these parts of the amendments. I am very pleased that the Minister of Justice is bringing such a liberal approach to his department in this respect. I would almost be tempted to congratulate him on realizing the important role of treatment and rehabilitation, but of course we all know, both at the committee and in the public, that there are many other bills that have been before the House, and are to be before the committee, which strip away at the sincerity of the government's posturing toward treatment and rehabilitation. So I came close to complimenting the minister, but I cannot.

I must say it is refreshing to see the Conservative minority government respect some of these principles. We would like to see more action on them as it relates to the bill.

I am very interested in having the House discussing the omnibus bill one week after the Conservative government abolished the Law Commission of Canada. As most members are probably aware, the main objective of the Law Commission of Canada was to advise Parliament on how to improve and modernize its laws. Is that not ironic? We are here discussing Bill C-23, which is essentially a modernization, a keeping up to date of the Criminal Code, one of our oldest statutes, and as most members are probably aware, the Law Commission of Canada is to exist no more.

The Law Commission of Canada provided exceptional advice on such topics. This is why we are at a loss to explain that on the one hand we see parts of this omnibus bill that obviously recognize the evolution--somebody watching the Criminal Code as it evolved and coming up with these proposals--and on the other hand the government is saying it is not really interested in organically studying the evolution of law and it will cut the Law Commission just like that without any real reason.

I would say, if I could make a statement here, that in the space of a few days, the government in fact has shown its support for the Law Commission of Canada by speaking in favour of the bill. It is cutting funds to the Law Commission of Canada, and on the same day, as we know, there was a surplus announced of over $13 billion.

Generally speaking, Bill C-23 is all about details, but as we all know, some amendments have been made to the Criminal Code, and sometimes they look pretty small and unimportant. They often, however, have long term implications. Any of us following the saga of Bill C-9 on conditional sentencing will know that in what was more than the stroke of a pen, in what was a 60 page decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Proulx, what seemed like a very ordered system to deal with the application of conditional sentences turned into something completely different.

I believe, however, that we must study each of these amendments further at committee and learn more about the implications of some of the changes.

The purpose of Bill C-23 is to clean up, modernize and update the Criminal Code. We still have a responsibility, though, to study it thoroughly and understand the implications of the proposed changes.

The proposed amendments are quite varied and touch on several areas of the Criminal Code. It would be a very long, complicated process, therefore, to discuss them in detail in the House. For this reason, it is very appropriate to send BillC-23 to committee to ensure that each of these changes is well understood.

I am looking forward to studying this bill in the justice committee and the workings therein. With almost 50 clauses, Bill C-23 will definitely need some serious consideration to ensure we do actually clean up and modernize the Criminal Code, and not create more problems.

One last thing that concerns me is the workload that is being sent to the justice committee, not because the members of the committee from all parties are afraid of work, we are sitting three times a week now, but because of the sheer volume of bills presented to the committee. It seems like the government is more interested in putting these bills in the front store of its populist democracy and has no real interest in making sure that these bills are passed by this Parliament in a quick and just way.

I caution members of this House, if we are serious about keeping communities safer, if we are serious about protecting victims, then let us back up our words, as much as we agree on certain bills, and get these bills through this House.

That is why I emphatically endorse Bill C-23. Members will find that on this side of the House, in the House and in committee, we will put forth our very best efforts to see to it that it is passed with speed because this party and this side believe in safer communities and in the safety of victims.

I hearken back to my comments about my three daughters, aged 7, 8 and 10. If I thought we were not of ultimate dispatch in passing the amendments to this bill that call for further and subsequent prohibitions from driving for repeat drunk drivers, I would hold all of the members here accountable for not having done enough. Let us get to work on this bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2006 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-23 is a good clean-up bill because it takes care of a lot of loose ends. The Department of Justice should be complimented on its good work.

However, I cannot say the same about the justice minister's implications in this bill. The bill was the fruit of the good work of the Law Commission, which has been eradicated. One of the first steps of the Minister of Justice, through the government purse keepers, the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board, was to cut the Law Commission.

Would the minister agree that the government was hasty in completely gutting the Law Commission?

The second point I would like to make is that the new Official Languages Commissioner, Graham Fraser, before the official languages committee said that he would be in favour of keeping the court challenges program.

The minister will know, at least I hope he knows, that the battle and struggle for language rights in this country has been in part as a result of successful court challenges applications and the testing of municipal and provincial laws and even, in some cases, federal laws to ensure that francophones across the country have the rights that have been improved in Bill C-23 but were in fact instituted by court challenges. Will the minister reconsider the efficacy of the court challenges program?

Finally and briefly, the imposition of a fine up to $10,000 on summary conviction offences from $2,000 is certainly to be lauded. This is a modernization of the reality of the effect of crime and the willingness to pay and the capacity to pay which must be judged by a judge. The judge's judicial discretion in deciding up to $10,000 in the capacity to pay area is something that acts totally against what the government has done to the judiciary. It was held up, I learned today, and it completely delayed bringing back the discussion in the House of the pay packages for our judges, ripping them of their discretion when it comes to Bill C-9 and Bill C-10, and yet in this case lauding the fact that we are increasing the discretion to $10,000 on summary conviction offences when in fact every other step of the government and the Minister of Justice has been an attack on the judiciary and its wise use of discretion.

Those are three little questions on which I will await the minister's response with apt attention.