I think that Mr. Fraser, who appeared on the subject of Bill C-23, could add to that.
Do you have anything to add?
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
Vic Toews Conservative
Not active, as of June 14, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)
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.
May 8th, 2008 / 10:35 a.m.
Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
I think that Mr. Fraser, who appeared on the subject of Bill C-23, could add to that.
Do you have anything to add?
Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders
April 15th, 2008 / 4:50 p.m.
Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, there are several reasons I would like to get this bill to committee. I will talk about some of the positive items first because that will be a very short part of my speech, but I am pleased with the objectives of the bill to further inhibit organized crime, to prevent harm to youth, to increase security and to enhance health and safety.
I am also in favour of moving GHB and flunitrazepan from schedule III to schedule 1 so there can be more serious penalties for those date rape drugs. However, I have a lot of problems with this bill and I will go through a number of them now.
One of the reasons I would like to get the bill to committee is because the government does not seem to listen to the facts presented by the various opposition parties. At committee, it can once again hear evidence from the experts, as witness after witness comes forward with what are becoming pretty commonly known facts, and maybe get the government to change its direction so that its crime package will not be such a disaster and fall apart the way it has. Members will notice that it has fallen right off the radar screen because it has really been much of a disaster in a lot of ways, based on what these experts in the field have come forward with.
One of the reasons the government has had this great problem with its crime agenda is the process. Normally in the bureaucracy, in bringing forward government bills, the process is that experts, in whatever federal department, in this case the Department of Justice, who have had a lifetime of expertise to study what happens in other countries and to do studies on the effects, propose to the government effective potential changes.
When the justice committee was in Toronto, I asked one of the witnesses why we were getting so many bad bills that did not make any sense. He said that the process, from the bottom up, was not the process that was being followed by the government. It was not the normal legislative development. Of course, that would obviously lead to a number of problems that even would be beyond the control of the Conservative backbenchers, so I cannot blame them.
It is kind of ironic that the Conservatives called this justice week and an hour and a half ago, for the fourth time, their chair of the justice committee walked out again, halting all progress on justice bills like this and a whole line-up that we have at the justice committee, and actually not following the standing rules of order in doing that. It is ironic that it is justice week when no progress is being made in a number of committees that are looking at other types of justice issues.
In the United States, it has tried the mandatory minimums. I think a number of members have pointed that out. I will not get personal, as some have, but I will say that the results of sweeping mandatory minimums in the 1980s in the U.S.A. have been overcrowded prisons with no appreciable reduction in drug crime.
That is our closest example of something that does not work. Why, in heaven's name, would we in Canada want to implement something that has proven to be an abject failure? The problem is that not only would it be a failure for the objective that every member of Parliament here wants, which is to reduce drug crime, and I honestly believe everyone here wants that, but we would actually be moving backward.
What happens when we increase the numbers in prisons that are already overcrowded? We do not have enough treatment facilities. We do not have the capacity to deal with existing prisoners so they are corrected and healed and do not get out and hurt us or revictimize the victims who we are trying to protect. The whole problem is exacerbating and we are taking a step backward.
If we do not want to take the evidence from the United States, there are all sorts of studies showing that mandatory minimums, to a large degree, do not work except in some very select cases. However, in the area where it works the least is where the bill is focusing, and that is drug crimes. If members do not want to believe all the expert studies by professors from other places, experts who any normal academic or rational person would believe, they can go to the study done by the Department of Justice in 2002 which stated that mandatory minimums do not influence drug crime in any way.
Therefore, mandatory minimums in many ways are not helping the situation. As was mentioned on Monday, it is one of the negative aspects of the massive attack on judicial discretion that we have had under the government. Obviously, the more choices and options a judge has the more likely the judge will make the right decision on the alternative treatments and sentences that would help a person stop from reoffending and, once again, save victims and make society safer. Any time we put caps on that, we are reducing the potential to have a better outcome and a safer Canada.
An item in the bill suggests that the Conservatives may be understanding that a bit and going in the right direction. They have actually increased one of the maximum penalties from 7 to 14 years. Unlike most of their previous bills, which limited judicial discretion, a total mistake, as the academics have said, in this case they are expanding judicial discretion. They are actually making a maximum penalty longer, which may or may not be warranted but in some cases it would, and the judge would have that option to make Canada safer in that way.
A member of the government made an interesting comment when he commented on a statement made by a member of one of the opposition parties. He said that just because it does not work does not mean we should not do it. Of course it does not mean we should not do it. If we have a fire, everyone wants the fire out but throwing gasoline on it will not help. We do not do something that makes the matter worse. We look for another solution. A number of people have spoken about those options and I will speak to them later today.
The member for Cambridge talked about the crime rate in his riding expanding dramatically. Considering that crime in Canada has reduced over the years in general, that definitely is a big problem in his riding. If I were that member I would be looking at all the various solutions, such as more police officers, which the Conservatives had promised in their first term and which I think they are acting on now. It was a problem for the north. I am glad to see my colleague from Western Arctic here because the distribution of those police are on a per capita basis, which means that he and I get approximately one police person and assorted support to cover an area larger than any country in Europe. That will not make a lot of difference.
The member for Cambridge also mentioned that one of the biggest problems the police have night after night is dealing with drug problems because, once again, the prisons are not working and that system is not working. As we know, virtually everyone gets out of prison so obviously it is not working. The member should be looking at other solutions so that the police in his riding do not need to deal with a problem that has not been fixed. We have just delayed it for a few days or a few years, to whatever time offenders will get out.
When a member suggested a drop in the GST would solve the problem, one member went laughing from the House. Most of the people who are in such desperate straits do not have a huge amount of disposable income that would give them a substantial savings on the GST to head in the right way of life. Had the income tax rate not been increased by .25% in the Conservatives' first budget and another .25% in the following year, they at least would have had that off their basic income if they had any income at all.
The murder rate across Canada has gone down in the last 20 years. That point was made earlier.
There is an item I am pleased with in the bill. It would allow the drug treatment court to impose a penalty other than a mandatory sentence when an offender who has a previous conviction for a serious drug offence where the offence involves no aggravating factors and the offender successfully completes the DTC treatment program.
I commend the government for this move. This is a recognition that we have to deal with the problem, not just put it on hold for a year or two, so when the person is released it continues to be a problem. We can actually take a serious look at the problem. In fact, the government is making provision for the drug courts, which have proven to be successful in a number of cases, to seriously consider the problem. I commend that particular part of the bill.
I also commend the attack on organized crime. I support any items that would reduce organized crime, but once again, most of the speakers today have suggested that the bill would not have that effect. I want to read a quote from a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy. He is one of the most experienced experts in Canada. He said:
Organized crime doesn't care about the law. With these changes, the government is doing a service for organized crime.
That was from Eugene Oscapella, a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy at the University of Ottawa and once advised the Law Reform Commission of Canada.
The Law Reform Commission and the court challenges program, which the Conservative government unfortunately ditched, can no longer help improve lives. They probably could have given very wise advice in this particular area.
I am not saying it is my opinion because I do not know, but it has been suggested by others that this particular bill would scare off the lower criminals, the mom and pop operations, so that there would be even more of a market for organized crime. However, I am certainly in favour of anything that the government can prove to me would reduce organized crime.
Everyone in the House wants to reduce drug crimes. We should be looking for solutions that actually work rather than solutions that research has shown do not work, and which every single MP through speeches in the House and expert witnesses at committee have shown do not work very effectively. What would work in a lot of cases to reduce this problem?
As I have said before in the House, to a large degree we have had a criminal justice system, a penal system that for 1,000 years has not really worked. People who have been to jail reoffend when they are released. Extending their sentence another day or another year will not make any difference. They will still reoffend when they are released. That is a total failure and it happens far too often. What can we do to stop that?
There were some good examples from experts in the city of Ottawa at restorative justice week a few months ago. Hundreds of enthusiastic people in the city of Ottawa have worked on some of these new restorative justice programs, such as, alternative sentencing, diversion, treatment, group conferencing, family group conferencing, which has been very successful in my riding, and family circles. There are all sorts of different ways when simple incarceration will not work.
The Ottawa police chief is very enthusiastic about finally having an alternative that has a greater degree of success. He suggested at the conference that even these methods I have spoken about fail 30% or 40% of the time. That means 30% or 40% of the time the youth that often go through alternative sentencing, restorative justice, still reoffend. However, had they gone through the regular justice system, had they been incarcerated or their incarceration has been increased, as this bill suggests, they would have reoffended 70% of the time. It is an amazing success story.
What have the Conservatives done with this amazing success story, what was their strategy? In Bill C-23 they tried to reduce the increase in crime. The use of this in a large number of cases would have been an absolute disaster for the country and particularly in my riding. More victims we are trying to protect would have been victimized. When we finally came upon a solution that in a number of cases worked, it was not allowed to continue.
I mentioned earlier today another program in my riding, a positive preventive measure, which is a carving course for aboriginal and other youth. These are very artistic people who either were having trouble getting employment or have substance abuse problems. They have produced some incredible work, some beautiful art.
At one time the operators of the program needed more funding. I hope the government has continued the funding because it has been a success so far. If the government has funded them to continue the program, I give it credit for that. It is the Sundog Carving Centre, a wonderful model that we could try in other places.
Another example I cannot imagine people would not be very supportive of is improving the treatment of prisoners. As I said, what good does it do to put people in jail when they come out and reoffend? Most people who have visited prisons would suggest that there be a wiser investment of money in prisons and in after care for such things as drug treatment, literacy, anger management. The programs are too minimal and are not nearly enough. More could be done to solve the problem than simply building more jails.
I also decry the lack in all the justice strategies of any significant mention of assistance to aboriginal people. There is a much higher rate of incarceration. The aboriginal justice strategy was a success story, way higher than the traditional system of putting people in jail when they just get out and reoffend. The aboriginal justice strategy was having a great success. I have to commend the minister that at the last minute he extended that program. He is a fan of it, so I commend the minister for that but I want him to make that strategy permanent and to do it soon because it is such a successful program.
I have two other items. One is related to harm reduction. I know the government is opposed to this in spite of the evidence of its positive effects. One of the corollary benefits to people coming in and keeping them alive and not passing their disease on to other people, which would add huge costs to the health care system, is they also get directed in the process to other resources that can help them with therapy, direct them to treatment centres when they have decided themselves that they want this help. Those corollary effects show that those are also good investments in the system.
In my last minute I would like to mention the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce which in the last month unveiled a strategy in conjunction with the crime prevention office. It is looking at some innovative ideas to reduce crime in the small business sector. It is looking at education, prevention and other items so that crime does not happen in the first place. Maybe the causes of the crime can be dealt with so that we do not have the unfortunate situation of a person going to jail, not getting any help, maybe learning lessons from other prisoners that should not be learned, and coming out not rehabilitated, not able to face society any better than when the person first went in.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
April 15th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.
Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-13 today. Again, it is another piece of legislation that I think is important when we look at trying to modernize the justice system in Canada and make various changes. It is also good to have time in our ridings to discuss these issues and get the support of our constituents in advance of being able to speak to them.
Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), will clearly take us in another direction to ensure that our justice system in Canada is as modern as can be. Hopefully, the bill will modernize the system to make it also more efficient and more effective, something that we also hear complaints about in our judicial system. Lawyers, crown attorneys and so on talk about how slow the system is and how there is a need to update a variety of areas in our judicial system.
Some of these amendments make certain processes more effective through greater use of technology and by consolidating and rationalizing existing provisions. The amendments relating to criminal procedure in Canada provide for, among other things, the use of a means of telecommunication to forward warrants for the purpose of endorsement and execution in the jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the search warrant was obtained. This clearly will save time and will be far more efficient. It is a logical step that needed to be taken.
The amendments also provide for changes to the process with respect to the challenge of jurors to, among other things, assist in preserving their impartiality, which again is very important; summary dismissal by a single judge of the court of appeal when an appeal has erroneously been filed with that court; an appeal of a superior court order with respect to things seized lying with the court of appeal; a summary conviction trial with respect to the co-accused that can proceed where one of the co-accused does not appear; and the reclassification of the offence of possession of break and enter instruments into a dual procedure offence to allow the Crown to determine whether this offence should be prosecuted by way of indictment or by the more expeditious procedure of summary conviction, which again could save hours of court time and allow for much faster determinations.
Amendments related to sentencing provide for, among other things: 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, thereby enhancing protection of victims, which for some time has been called for; clarifications with respect to the application of impaired driving penalties; an increase of the maximum fine that can be imposed for a summary conviction offence from the current $2,000 to $10,000, which is a significant increase and hopefully would work to some degree as a deterrent; the suspension of a conditional sentence order or a probation order during an appeal; and the power to delay sentencing proceedings so that an offender can participate in a provincially approved treatment program.
We often have heard about the lack or insufficient number of treatment programs for people who find themselves with a serious drug problem. There are just not enough programs. There was an article in yesterday's paper and a symposium held yesterday in Toronto which talked about the very issue of there not being sufficient drug treatment programs for many people. That also results in many people are finding themselves in the judicial system.
Further amendments include: in the case of a person serving a youth sentence who receives an adult sentence, to clarify that the remaining portion of the youth sentence is converted to an adult sentence; and 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.
Clearly this legislation is reflecting the ongoing concerns of Canadians and parliamentarians with regard to many of the things that are going on through the Internet and the luring of young children, an issue that has been discussed at length here in the House. Again, it is all part of the modernization of our justice system's ability to reflect these kinds of things that did not happen many years ago.
Other amendments will allow for better implementation of the language right provisions in the Criminal Code. These amendments will improve the means through which an accused is informed of the right to be heard by a judge or a judge and jury who speak the official language of Canada that is the language of the accused, or both official languages of Canada. The amendments also codify the right of the accused to obtain a translation of the information or indictment on request. Other provisions clarify the application of the language provisions of the Criminal Code in the context of bilingual trials.
Although this bill may not seem as exciting as some that we have been debating lately, I think it is nice to get something that is not charging each and every one of us up but goes on to modernize the system. These justice bills are important. As the responsible Liberal official opposition that we are, we will be supporting this legislation.
The legislation might seem familiar to all the people watching at home. There is good reason for that. This bill was originally introduced as Bill C-23 in the first session of the 39th Parliament. It passed all stages of approval in the House of Commons and had been sent to the Senate, so if anyone thinks this is familiar legislation, clearly it is. It died on the order paper, unfortunately, when the minority Conservative government decided to prorogue the House and start fresh with a Speech from the Throne. This is catch-up time on good legislation.
That Speech from the Throne was another ploy by the government to try to raise its poll numbers, not unusual for the Conservatives, nor was it unusual for other people who had assumed the same role in government, but sadly for them Canadians saw through the strategy and were not fooled. Canadians know how much good work the Liberal government did to protect our cities and our communities and how much progress we made on our justice agenda.
Notable achievements by my government included the creation of a national sex offender registry to protect Canadians from violent sex offenders, and we introduced legislation to restrict the use of conditional sentences for serious and violent offences. We also introduced a package of measures to crack down on violent gun crime and gang violence to assist communities at risk.
Much of that legislation is currently being used in cities across Canada, in particular my city of Toronto, which continues to work on areas of crime prevention, enforcement of the sentences that are there and reaching out to at risk youth and at risk communities. Some of the initiatives included a new $50 million gun violence and gang prevention fund, legislative reform for stricter sentencing for gun crimes, and social investments to prevent those at risk from following a life of crime and to provide them with hope and opportunity for tomorrow.
Canadians know that the Liberal Party continues to be committed to protecting our homes and our rights, as they have always known. It is a priority for us. That is why we have committed to appointing more judges, and it is why we are supporting that legislation, and to putting more police officers on our streets and more prosecutors in the courts, as I mentioned earlier today. We also have worked very hard to toughen laws on Internet luring and identity theft to protect Canada's most vulnerable citizens, including children and seniors.
In his many comments, our leader has also committed to establishing a new fund that will help preserve the safety of ethnic and cultural at risk communities across Canada. This safety being put at risk is something that unfortunately continues to happen more and more in many of our communities across Canada. This fund would, for example, cover the costs of security in their places of worship and gathering places.
I am pleased to support Bill C-13. I encourage my colleagues to do the same. I also encourage my colleagues to exercise their privileges as members to be on the record as speaking out on behalf of their constituents on important pieces of legislation before the House. I am glad to have had the opportunity to get my points of view on the record today. I look forward to questions.
Tackling Violent Crime LegislationGovernment Orders
February 11th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE
Mr. Speaker, I have a simple question for the member but I must background it because of the games that the government plays.
On October 26, 2006, the Liberals made the first offer to fast-track a package of justice bills through the House. This offer effectively guaranteed the Conservatives a majority in the House to pass this legislation.
On March 21, 2007, we attempted to use an opposition day motion that if passed would have immediately results in the passage at all stages of four justice bills: Bill C-18, Bill C-22, Bill C-23 and Bill C-35.
Incredibly, the Conservative House leader raised a procedural point of order to block the motion. In other words, the Conservatives fought the Liberal attempt to pass the four Conservative justice bills. Why? They wanted to get to the attacking violent crime bill where they could try to confuse Canadians and try to blame the Liberals that they did not pass them.
Would the member for once withdraw from his fantasyland, be honest in this House and admit to the facts that I just outlined to him?
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
February 6th, 2008 / 5:05 p.m.
Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am almost looking forward to the opportunity Bill C-13 gives me to attack the government and the other chamber for their misconduct, if I can put it that way. That is the emotion on one side, which is a positive one in terms of getting my adrenalin flowing.
However, on the other hand, I feel some significant regret because Bill C-13 and its prior incarnation in the form of C-23 is badly needed to be law, not to be deemed played with as a political toy, which both the government and the Senate are doing.
The history of the bill is that it was first brought before the House by the government in 2006. It went to the justice committee where a number of amendments were made that improved the bill. The bill addressed points of issue in a number of areas, particularly our police but also our prosecutors and the judiciary to more efficiently administer our criminal justice system.
A number of these amendments had been needed for quite some time. The Liberal administration, prior to the Conservative one, had allowed a number of these points to go unaddressed, some of which are as old as two decades and needed to be addressed. Requests had been coming from the police, the prosecutors and our judiciary over that period of time looking for these amendments and they just were not addressed.
The Conservatives came forward in their administration, packaged a number of them into one bill and sent them to the justice committee. We made further amendments that improved the bill. We sent it back to the House and it went through the House with all party support. It went to the Senate around the time the government decided, because it did not have enough of an agenda and did not know what it would do when it returned in the fall of 2007, to prorogue Parliament. The end result was that Bill C-23 died on the order paper in the Senate and had to be brought back.
It came back as Bill C-13 in the new House in the fall of 2007. It did not go to the justice committee. We just passed it and sent it over to the Senate because we had already done all the work that we wanted to do on it in the House.
What happened? The Senate decided that it would stick its fingers, as an unelected, non-responsive, I would say, irresponsible body--
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
February 6th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, the member for Yukon is a stalwart member of the justice committee. He works very hard at ensuring the interests of justice are served. More than that, he does a lot to ensure that his region of this great country is recognized.
After hearing the explanation of the Minister of Finance and him paying all that money to discover that Canada ends at the Rocky Mountains, I want to assure Canadians that Canada goes from east to west. It also goes far north. It goes to the riding of Yukon. The member has expressed many concerns about the aboriginal community.
He is completely right. Bill C-13 was Bill C-23, which could have been law except for, as he says, the ridiculous measures and attitude of the government. The Conservatives was so afraid of a private member's bill that they flushed the drain on all other business, including good business like this. It is sad, cowardly and ridiculous.
Here we are, months later, and the provision that delays the sentencing procedures so an offender can participate in provincially approved treatment programs, which already exist and are in place, should have been put into effect many months ago. The member for Yukon knows that.
The member for Yukon has also addressed language rights with respect to aboriginal peoples. We are evolving as a democracy. We have done fairly well on language rights, despite the actions, the backward, Luddite actions, of the government in cancelling the court challenges program.
We have done pretty well on language rights with respect to bilingualism, meaning French and English. However, what about those minorities in Yukon and in the northern territories and throughout the country?
The Conservatives are supposed to care about western Canada, but there are a lot of aboriginal people who are overrepresented in our justice system, in the sentencing procedures, who may not be served in the language of their mother tongue.
There has been no movement on this because the government does not care about anything but its shrinking 30% or so of the population it serves. The rest of the people in Canada, if they speak another language and the Conservatives do not represent it, they do not matter. If they get any opposition from a wee private member's bill, they will flush all the legislation down the drain to the detriment of the country. They should be ashamed.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
February 6th, 2008 / 4:10 p.m.
Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
I may be a rookie here but I remember Bill C-23 very well. We were in favour of the bill but the government decided to dissolve Parliament. So here we are, debating the same bill all over again, except that the number has changed.
The context is fairly important as we start, Bill C-13 is really Bill C-23. It contains so many important new aspects to make our criminal justice system work more equitably and to modernize it. It is why I was proud as a member of the Liberal justice team and as a member of the Liberal justice committee team to approve it and to send it on for eventual approval and royal assent.
Alas, the Prime Minister and his team decided that they were afraid of the environment. Their new Minister of the Environment had failed so miserably to act on the environment that they had to scuttle the whole Parliament because they were afraid of a couple of bills that might change things. In that mess, in that melee unfortunately, this good justice bill was killed and had to be reintroduced again.
One might ask, what difference does it make? It makes a difference to people who care about the criminal justice system. It may not mean a lot to people, but one of the biggest things we could have done in the last two years that I have been here would have been to modernize and make more effectual our criminal justice system, to move the maximum fine to be imposed for any summary conviction offence from $2,000 to $10,000.
A $2,000 fine is within the means of many people, but a $10,000 fine for a serious summary conviction offence, that does not warrant jail time, is a serious fine and might very well have a deterrent effect on those type of crimes for which a fine is appropriate.
There were many other amendments, which could be in effect and the law in the country now, that were just simply thrown away.
Language rights are very important in my province of New Brunswick which is officially a bilingual province. I represent the city of Moncton, which is an officially bilingual city. This is bread and butter for New Brunswick politicians. It is disturbing to me that the parliamentary secretary, when asked why Bill C-23, which contained many provisions to improve the delivery of justice services in both official languages was not given the priority of other bills, turned his answer to Bill C-2 and the tackling violent crime bill.
This love child of the Conservative justice agenda, why was it killed by the Prime Minister? Was he so afraid of other bills which showed the incompetency of his own ministers?
It seems shocking to me. It included: Bill C-10, involving mandatory minimums which was a bill improved upon at committee and which had passed the House; Bill C-22, which modernized issues surrounding the age of consent and the age of protection, and provided for the first time a close in age exemption which made the bill very palatable in protecting young people; Bill C-32, for which Mothers Against Drunk Driving had been clamouring for some time; and, Bill C-35, a reverse onus on bail provisions which in effect codified the existing treatment of the law by jurists in the country, jurists who are exceptional jurists.
I have said this for two years. It seems like I just got here but I am here again defending judges and saying that they were enacting the provisions of Bill C-35 long before we had to make it law. Finally, there was Bill C-27, with respect to dangerous offenders.
Those were all bills that were moved along and would be law now had the government not pulled the plug on its own agenda. It euthanized its own criminal justice program.
In light of the Conservative vote on the capital punishment issue today, it is not surprising that Conservative members believe in terminating things. They have terminated their own hopes and dreams for criminal justice.
However, as I move to what is probably bread and butter for me as a New Brunswick politician, the language of the accused, I want to highlight what the bill will do and what it has done in the past. It is important to note the existing context.
At the request of the accused, a judge will order that the accused be granted a preliminary inquiry, a pre-trial procedure, and trial before a judge without jury, or judge with jury, who speak the official language, one or the other, which may be the language of the accused.
If the accused speaks neither English nor French, a judge will order that the accused be granted a preliminary inquiry or trial, without a judge and jury, who speak the official language of Canada in which the accused can best give testimony. The court is also required to provide interpretation services. That is the existing set of laws.
What Bill C-13 does to improve upon that, in clause 18 of the original bill, is to suggest that once the accused appears in court, the judge is required to advise him or her of the right to trial in the official language of his or her choice, but this requirement, as it exists now, is only if the accused is not represented by counsel.
What Bill C-13 does, which Bill C-23 did and which we all agree on, is take away the issue of representation and says that the judge must advise the accused, whether represented or not, it was a false barrier, to his or her right to have a trial in the language of his or her own choice. That was a good change and it leads me into some of my further debate points when I say that the judge was required to advise the accused of his or her languages rights.
I know the member for Beauséjour is a member of the bar. He is experienced in certain criminal proceedings and would know, coming from a francophone milieu, that it is critically important that the gatekeeper for language rights in that context, the provincial court judge in most instances, has that positive duty to inform a judge of his or her right to a trial in the language of his or her choice. It is important to know that the judge is already doing that.
With respect to preliminary inquiries and the trial in both official languages, clauses 18 and 21 changed it so that they became more accessible. Trials in the proper language of the accused, either French or English, would be improved by this bill.
I might add, as an aside, that the translation of documents would be ameliorated certainly by these amendments and we are all in favour of that.
I guess where the rubber hits the road is what to do with the amendments presented by the Senate. My friend, the parliamentary secretary, discussed at length some of the amendments, and I want to counter on the two on which we might have a more elaborate discussion.
We know that this bill is aimed at modernizing our criminal justice system and making it more effective. That goes without saying. My party had indicated that it would support the passage of this bill when it was first introduced before prorogation. It was the bill that I mentioned earlier, Bill C-23.
In the context of this modernization, it is important that the rights of all Canadians be respected with regard to the use of official languages in court proceedings.
Canadians, particularly those in minority language situations, know they have certain rights under the Criminal Code, but it is the federal government's responsibility, and I suggest our responsibility as lawmakers, to ensure the application of those rights is clear and that the judicial process is not delayed.
The way the government presented its view of language rights in Bill C-13, a justice of the peace or court judge would only be charged with finding some way to ensure that accused persons are informed of their language rights. That is really not enough.
One of the amendments that we proposed should be supported. We are in argument with the government on this, at least according to the parliamentary secretary's speech. It is important to say from the outset that the judge already has a duty to advise the accused of his or her rights. The language says that the judge must ensure that the accused knows of this option.
I have witnessed many first appearances and I am very confident in the ability of our judges to advise accused persons of their rights. It is commonly done throughout the province of New Brunswick and in any federally appointed court system where official languages are important.
The amendment proposed by the Senate would ensure that the federal government takes on its responsibilities through its agents to inform any accused persons of their right to proceed in the official language they understand. The Senate amendment simply takes out any potential middleman in the administration of justice. The judge would inform the accused of his or her rights.
I do not think that it is an undue burden for a judge. If there is clear communication during court proceedings, we are simply providing for clear access to justice for all those involved. It falls in line with our democratic society's pledge to have an expedient judicial process and it takes out the aspect of appeal.
I think the government wants efficacious legislation but I cannot be sure sometimes because some of the legislation it presents is so poorly written and so hastily delivered, only for the purpose of a television spot on the news, it is not always clear. In this case, however, if the government would only support this Senate amendment, it could have efficacious and fair language policy through the Criminal Code.
Sadly, the other Senate amendment respecting the reporting on official language requests is not one that the opposition can support. We cannot agree with it because it would require the Minister of Justice to report on the language of proceeding or testimony in criminal matters across this country.
There can be no way that all attorneys general in all provinces and in all territories would have the means to uniformly report on this. As the parliamentary secretary rightly commented, it is not the minister's mandate. In saying this, I do not mean that the Minister of Justice is not competent. I mean that he is not competent in the law to do such reporting. For that reason, we support the government in its opposition to that Senate amendment.
I understand the Senate's concern with ensuring that there is accountability in respecting language rights but we can surely do a more effective job in ensuring this by using the other resources that are in the community.
I know well-known jurists and hard-working jurists in my own province.
They are Sacha D. Morisset and Christian Michaud, who are both members of the Association des juristes d'expression française du Nouveau-Brunswick. They often highlight the statistics with regard to French language trials in our province. If it can be done in New Brunswick, I am sure it can be done in Canada.
Again, we do not support that Senate amendment.
In short, we are very happy to get moving with this important legislation. We are happy the Senate took the time to improve the bill by suggesting that judges, who are the gatekeepers in our system, have the duty to inform an accused of his or her rights respecting language in this country.
It is bedrock in this community and this country that we offer services in both languages with respect, at least, to the Criminal Code of Canada and the criminal justice system.
On this one amendment from the Senate, I urge members of the government to agree with the Senate and with the Liberal Party and its justice team that it will make the situation with respect to the delivery of language rights in this instance a much better thing.
I am very proud to suggest that we support the bill and one of the amendments suggested by the Senate, which is one of the two that are excluded from the government's list in the final motion.
I want to move the following amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting the words “agrees with Amendments No. 2, 4, 5 and 6” and substituting therefore the words “agrees with Amendments No. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6” and by deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “disagrees with Amendment No. 1”.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
February 6th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB
Mr. Speaker, certainly some of these provisions have been a long time in coming, decades in fact. We need to update and streamline our Criminal Code procedures.
We heard testimony on the old Bill C-23 and now Bill C-13 as to the impact that these changes would have and that they would be a positive impact on our criminal justice system to ensure timely access to the system for all. I believe that is a goal all of us share to ensure an efficient and effective criminal justice system.
The hon. member mentioned the Senate amendments. Yes, the Senate has dealt with this bill and has put forward six amendments. We are opposing two of those amendments as a government and supporting four of them. The hon. member is quite correct. My take certainly and the take of our party is that the Senate has been delaying Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.
In my response to the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, I spoke a bit about what the act would do. I do not know how any member in this House could be opposed to what the tackling violent crime act does. In fact, it has passed this House.
It is necessary legislation to ensure the safety of our communities, the safety of our children, to get impaired drivers off the streets, to ensure that those who commit serious crimes with firearms are behind bars, to ensure that dangerous offenders are in jail rather than out roaming the streets preying on innocent Canadians.
We have handed this legislation off to the Senate. The Senate has not even begun to deal with it until today when the Minister of Justice will be appearing. There is no doubt in my mind there has been tremendous delay. We are urging the Senate to get on with it. We call on the leader of the official opposition to insist that Liberal senators pass the tackling violent crime act.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
February 6th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am having some difficulty with the government's position. It has repeatedly, I think as recently as this afternoon in question period, stood in the House and attacked the other place for delaying bills. Certainly, a strong argument could be made that that is exactly what is happening here with the old Bill C-23, now Bill C-13, where the Senate has amended this bill in its chamber and sent it back.
I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary does not see some contradiction in the government's position of accepting some of these amendments now and, at the same time, literally at times screaming at the other house for delay, which is the effect this has.
There are some provisions in this bill that the NDP would have liked to have seen, quite frankly, 20 years ago in terms of some of the amendments. This is a bill that is based on a number of different sections in the code. A number of them would make the enforcement of our laws, the conduct of police as well as our judiciary in our criminal justice system much more efficient. We now are seeing months and months of delay of this law coming into effect because of the amendments that have been sent back to us by the other house.
I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary could comment on the apparent contradiction and also whether he is not exposing this House to seeing the Senate make amendments to Bill C-2, send it back and cause delay on that bill.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
February 6th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe for his question and also for his work on the justice committee.
Quite simply, the tackling violent crime act that the member raised does just what it says. It tackles violent crime. I will touch on the five previous bills that now make up the tackling violent crime act, which is stalled in the Liberal dominated Senate.
We know that the Minister of Justice is appearing now in the Senate. He is calling on the senators. We have been calling on the senators. We have been calling on the Liberal Leader of the Opposition to talk to his Liberal senators and urge them to pass, or at least begin to deal with, what the House has passed.
The tackling violent crime act deals with impaired driving. This is certainly supported by MADD Canada and police organizations. It deals with raising the age of protection. For too long the age of protection in Canada has been embarrassingly low, allowing individuals to come from other countries to exploit 14 and 15 year old Canadians. The tackling violent crime act raises the age of protection.
It also cracks down on dangerous offenders. It makes it possible to ensure that individuals who are truly dangerous offenders are locked up rather than out on the street. It also provides for tougher sentencing and tougher bail provisions for those who would use a firearm in the commission of an offence.
I have to add that it is not good enough to only talk about crime issues and getting tougher on crime during an election. I will remind members that during the last election the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Conservative Party all called for raising the mandatory sentence for those who commit an offence with a firearm. Yet when the Conservative government introduces legislation that does just that, it is delayed and opposed by those other two parties.
I have answered the member's question. The tackling violent crime act deals with those very important provisions that would protect people from violent crime.
The member mentioned consultations. Extensive consultations went into Bill C-23 that deals with language rights and criminal procedures. There were extensive consultations with stakeholders and the provinces, which are tasked with implementing and enforcing criminal law in their respective provinces. Those attorneys general gave us feedback on the bill. In fact, as I mentioned, they are opposed to one of the amendments that came back from the Senate that would require the judge to personally inform the accused of his or her official language rights.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
February 6th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, the hon. parliamentary secretary and I would both know that former Bill C-23 was part of the Conservative justice agenda, along with all of the other bills, the five bills that are now part of Bill C-2.
This bill deals with, for instance, taking away equipment and material from people who lure children through the Internet, the crime of Internet luring. It increases summary conviction fines from $2,000 to $10,000. It was agreed upon by all parties. Why are we sitting here in February, probably just before an election, why did we have to wait? Why was this bill, which also deals with language rights in his own province of New Brunswick, a bilingual province, why was it given such short shrift? Why was it put to the bottom of the order paper with respect to justice bills?
Finally, he said that his minister had consulted with provincial and territorial governments and it would be too onerous for them to require judges to instruct both represented and non-represented accused of their right to trial in the language of their choice. What evidence does he have of that? Could he be more specific? We would certainly like to know.
Those are the two short questions I have for the parliamentary secretary.
Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders
November 27th, 2007 / 1:20 p.m.
Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC
Mr. Speaker, before I begin to speak to Bill C-2, I have to address my hon. colleague's contradictory comments about the lack of mandatory minimums. On the one hand, he lambasted the Liberal Party for not wanting mandatory minimums. On the other hand, he said very clearly that we had them and we called for a strengthening of them.
When the member for Mount Royal was the justice minister, he introduced mandatory minimums for weapons offences. That was a good thing. That is why we support Bill C-2. We have been trying to drive forward much of what is in the legislation. Ironically, we have been obstructed by the government.
I will go through the facts. Unfortunately, in the House one could look at the old adage that “in war, truth is the first casualty”. What we have here is war by another name. Sometimes truth is the first casualty in the House of Commons, and that is sad for the public.
Let me talk about the facts for a minute and give viewers a bit of history on the bill.
Bill C-2 is an omnibus bill involving a combination of five bills, including mandatory minimum penalties. We support mandatory minimum penalties. I caution the government, however, to ensure that the mandatory minimum penalties for weapons offences, violent offences and sexual offences cannot be plea bargained away and that they run consecutively and not concurrently. Too many times people who have committed serious offences receive penalties that get plea bargained away, so there is no effective penalty.
We also support an increase in mandatory minimums for weapons trafficking. My colleague from Mount Royal introduced many mandatory minimums for these offences in the last Parliament.
The Liberal Party supports the provisions for dangerous offenders, impaired driving and reverse onus in firearms offences. Many years ago there really was no penalty for a person using a weapon in the commission of an offence. That was changed by the last government. The Liberal Party supports the changes in Bill C-2.
Let me talk for a few moments about a few facts around the passage of the bill.
On October 26, 2006, our Liberal leader made a first offer to fast track a package of justice bills in the House, including Bill C-9, as it had been amended, Bill C-18, the DNA identification legislation, Bill C-19, the street racing legislation, Bill C-22, the age of consent legislation, Bill C-23, the animal cruelty legislation and Bill C-26, respecting payday loans. We also added Bill C-35, on March 14 of this year, a bill for bail reform, and we support that.
On March 21, we attempted to use our opposition day to pass the government's four justice bills: Bill C-18, Bill C-22, Bill C-23 and Bill C-35. The Conservative House leader raised a procedural point of order to block the motion. Those four government bills would have been fast tracked through this place in the same day, yet the government House leader, for reasons unknown to us and the public, blocked this. Those are facts.
What has been the path of government justice bills through the Senate? Of the six justice bills that had been passed before the summer break, only four went to the Senate. How on earth could the Senate pass bills that it just received prior to the government proroguing Parliament? It could not do that. It is disingenuous for government members to stand and suggest that the Senate was trying to block their bills. By the time the Senate received the bills, the government closed Parliament. Those are the facts. Anybody can check them out if they wish.
We support Bill C-2. However, I want to bore down on a few dangerous issues that the government is pursuing. One deals with the issue of drug trafficking. The government has said that it will increase the penalties for those who traffic in drugs.
There are two populations of traffickers.
There are those parasites in society who are involved in commercial grow operations, frequently attached to organized crime. We should throw the book at them. Those people are a cancer in our society and they deserve to be in jail.
There is another population that will be swept up in the government's anti-trafficking bill. It is the low level dealers who sell small amounts of illegal drugs to people, but they themselves are addicts. In essence, they are selling drugs to pay for their addictions.
If we criminalize people who have addiction problems and throw them in jail, they come out being hardened criminals. We also do not deal with the underlying problem, which we will have at the end of the day when they come out. In effect, we increase public insecurity and costs to the taxpayer. We do not address the underlying problem and we make our streets less safe. That is stupid, not to put too fine a point on it.
If the government goes through with the bill to criminalize people who are addicts, the low level people buying and selling drugs, it will end up with the situation we see south of the border, which has used a war on drugs approach. It has proven to be an abysmal failure.
What we see south of the border is a view of the future for us if the government pursues its course of action. There have been increased rates of both soft and hard drugs use, increased numbers of people have been incarcerated, increased costs to the taxpayer and more violent crime. Society loses.
The government ought to work with the provinces to implement solutions that address some of the underlying problems.
I will get to the organized crime aspects in a moment.
For the drug problems, I cannot overemphasize what a disaster this will be. The government has been warned of this by people across the country.
Let us take two projects, in particular, that have been extremely effective in dealing with people who have intravenous drug use problems. Both of them are found in Vancouver and championed by Dr. Julio Montaner and Dr. Thomas Kerr, superb physicians and research scientists, who have underneath them the Insite supervised injection program and the NAOMI project.
The supervised injection program is a place where addicts can go to a supervised setting and take the drugs they are given. What has that done? It has reduced harm, put more people into treatment, reduced crime and saved the taxpayer money. Fewer people have gone to emergency and there has been less dependence on our health care system. It works.
The other project I would recommend we pursue is the NAOMI project. Before I get to it, I point out that in the eleventh hour the government extended Insite's ability to engage in its program up until June 2008.
All the evidence published from The Lancet to The New England Journal of Medicine shows, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Insite supervised injection program saves lives, reduces crime and gets people into treatment. It is good for public security and it saves the taxpayer money. Why extend it to only eight months?
If the government gets a majority, it will kill the program. That, in short, will be murder. The government knows full well the program saves lives. To remove that program, would result in, essentially, the killing of people.
A program that works better, which the government does not support but ought to expand, is the NAOMI project. The NAOMI project deals with hard-core narcotics abusers. These people are over the age of 26. They have had five years of drug addictions and two failed attempts at treatment. They are the hard nuts of intravenous drug use.
The NAOMI project took 243 addicts and randomized them into three populations. One population received intravenous heroine, the other one received intravenous dilaudid, which is a prescription narcotic that is legal, and the third was to take oral methadone, which is a weak narcotic.
What happened to those populations? Of the population on IV drugs, more than 85% of people were still taking those drugs, receiving treatment and counselling, getting their lives together, obtaining skills training and being able to live while not being on the street and not engaging in criminal behaviour to feed their addictions. Of the third population, the ones in the methadone program, 50% of people were still in treatment after a year. It works.
What the government should be doing for both Insite as well as NAOMI, is expanding those programs across our country. Our urban centres need it.
In Victoria there are 1,243 people living on the street, 60% of which have what we call dual diagnoses, which means some of them have both a drug problem and a psychiatric problem. I would also add that some people within that population have had brain injuries in the past and have fallen into the terrible spiral of drug use by being on the street. Those people could be you or I, Mr. Speaker, who one day fall off a ladder or get into a car accident, sustain a significant closed head injury, have major cerebral trauma and as a result their lives are affected forever.
Some of those people are on the street and take drugs. Do we throw those people in jail? Do we throw the psychiatric patient, who is dealing to pay for his or her addiction, in jail? That is what would happen with the bill that the government has introduced. Those people need medical treatment. They do not need to be in jail.
My plea to the government, to the Minister of Health, the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister is to bury their ideology, follow the facts and implement the solutions that will help people with addictions, keep our streets safe, and reduce costs to the taxpayers. It is a win-win situation for all concerned.
The interesting thing about the NAOMI project is that because NAOMI actually gave the drug to an individual who was proven to be an addict, that person did not have to go on the street to get the drugs. If that were done in a broader sense, it would be horrific to organized crime that benefits from this situation because the NAOMI project severs the tie between the addict and organized crime. That is what we need to do.
Organized crime would be horrified if a forward thinking government one day were to enable drug addicts to receive their drugs. Doing that enables addicts to get into the treatment programs that they need. It enables them to detoxify, obtain addiction counselling, skills training and the psychiatric therapy they need. If we do not do that, we will not make a dent in what we see on the ground. There will not be any affect on addictions and it will actually increase the criminal population in our country.
The other side of this coin, of course, deals with organized crime gangs, as I mentioned, the parasites and cancer in our society. These parasites are essentially people in $3,000 suits who benefit from a substance that is nearly worthless but has a value well beyond what it ought to have because it is illegal.
I have a bill on the order paper that would decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana. No one condones anybody using marijuana, everybody wants to prevent people from using it, and everyone certainly encourages children not to use this or any other illegal drug. The fact of the matter is that people do use it and a significant percentage of Canadians have used it at one time in their lives, particularly when they were very young.
Do we throw those people in jail? Do we throw an 18-year-old who has a joint in his or her back pocket in jail? Do we throw an 18-year-old in jail who exchanges or sells or gives a couple of marijuana cigarettes to a friend? That would be trafficking under the government's bill. Do we throw that 18-year-old in jail? Do we give an 18-year-old a criminal record, which is what we have today, affecting his or her ability to work or gain employment and have access to professional facilities for the rest of his or her life? Is that a humane way to deal with our population? It is not.
The worst news for organized crime, in my personal view, would be that marijuana is legal and regulated. It is not to say that marijuana is safe. It is not. It is dangerous, but so are alcohol and cigarettes.
If we can imagine today that cigarettes were going to come onto the market and were proposed as being something that ought to be sold today, do we think for a moment that they would be allowed, with all the cancer, respiratory and cardiac problems that cigarettes cause? No, they would not be, and neither in fact would alcohol. Alcohol would not be allowed today either, for all of the damage it does, but the fact of the matter is that cigarettes and alcohol are legal today.
The groups that benefit the most from the status quo, from marijuana being illegal, and it is just a weed with its value elevated well beyond what it ought to be because it is illegal, are the organized crime gangs. They are making billions of dollars off the status quo, and those billions are used to do any number of things including: trafficking of weapons and people, prostitution, embezzlement, fraud and murder. That is what organized crime is involved with.
What the government should be doing is coming up with a more comprehensive plan to deal with the biker gangs and organized criminal gangs who are--
Motions in amendmentTackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders
November 26th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON
Mr. Speaker, as I was mentioning, as parliamentarians we have to be cognizant and not pass bad legislation. We have to ensure that we do not interfere in the justice process as well.
These bills were thoroughly debated when they came before committee. Bills have to be handled properly if they are to get through Parliament. If they are to be handled properly, they have to be prioritized. It appears the Conservatives have no priorities. They only want to create a hodgepodge of stuff.
On October 26, 2006, the Liberals offered to fast track a package of justice bills through the House. These included Bill C-9, as it had been amended, Bill C-18, the DNA identification legislation, Bill C-19, the street racing legislation, Bill C-22, the age of consent legislation, Bill C-23, the animal cruelty legislation and Bill C-26, respecting payday loans. This offer effectively guaranteed that the Conservatives would have a majority to pass the legislation.
On March 14, the Leader of the Opposition added Bill C-35, the bail reform legislation, to the list of bills the Liberal caucus would fast track. Despite this offer, it took the Conservatives until May 30 to get the bill through committee. If the Conservatives were so keen on being hard on crime, as they have claimed, they should have taken this offer.
According to a report entitled “Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America’s Prison Population”, produced by the JFA Institute, the tough measures, which the government claims it is bringing through its omnibus bills, are costly and pointless. The report says that due largely to tough on crime policies, there are now eight times as many people in U.S. prisons and jails as there were in 1970, yet the crime rate today in the U.S. is about the same as it was in 1973. There is little evidence that the imprisonment binge has had much impact on crime.
As legislators, we are supposed to be here to pass good legislation, not bad legislation. We are here to debate and to amend. Amendments were proposed to the bills and the members of the Conservative Party on the committee did not want to pass them.
It is important that we reflect on what these bills talked about.
Bill C-10 talked about minimum penalties. It proposed five years for a first offence and seven years on a second or subsequent offence for eight specific offences involving the actual use of firearms, attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery, extortion and when the offence was gang related or if a restricted or prohibited firearm such as a handgun was used.
The bill was brought to committee and the committee made the necessary amendments. The committee still has very grave concerns that the bill needs to be properly documented and it has to be properly put in place so legislators know the intent of the legislation.
There is the creation of two new offences, an indictable offence of breaking and entering to steal a firearm and an indictable offence of robbery to steal a firearm. There is no difference with the version of Bill C-10, which passed through the House, and the language used in Bill C-2.
The question to be asked is why then group this in an omnibus bill? No one on the government side seems to give us an answer. All the members do is repeat their mantra that they are hard on crime. However, as I pointed out, the U.S. crime policy, which they so desperately want to follow, fails the system. It does nothing right.
Bill C-22, which was the age of protection bill, proposed to raise the age at which youth could consent to non-exploitative sexual activity. The age would be raised from 14 to 16 years of age and the age of protection of 18 years would be maintained for exploitative sexual activities.
Through amendments, the committee brought about a five year close in age. This was not there when it was proposed by the government. Therefore, another question arises. What happened to the good amendments in the mandatory minimum penalties in the age of protection?
What about Bill C-23, which was criminal procedure? According to the Official Languages Act, the committee ensured that there were changes to the bill. We said that a person who was a French-speaking person, if he or she were in court, should get a French counsel. It is important to protect language rights. In a country that has two official languages we have to protect minority rights as well. Why is this bill not mentioned at all?
Bill C-27 deals with dangerous offenders. It would provide that an offender who was serving a long term supervision order in the community and who was violating the conditions of the order would be guilty of an offence and the crown could choose to hold a dangerous offender hearing following convictions.
That was originally proposed by the Liberal justice critic. The bill would expand the possible sentence available to a judge following a finding that an individual would be a dangerous offender. The judge could now impose a long term supervision order or simply impose the sentence for the offence for which the offender had been convicted in addition to the previous option of detention in prison for an indeterminate period, which was previous available.
The Conservatives love to introduce bills. They want to take credit for a lot of things and make it on the six o'clock news. If something does not make the six o'clock news, like Bill C-23 because it was protecting minority language rights, they do not bother.
The last bill I will speak about is Bill C-32, the drug recognition experts to conduct roadside sobriety tests. It is good to promise all sorts of things, but there is no funding. When we do not have funding, how will we get these experts? For example, in Seacow Pond where would we get a person who is an expert?
It is very important that when we prepare bills and we make promises, those promises have to be kept. We have to provide the legislators with enough resources.
Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders
November 26th, 2007 / noon
Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, at report stage of Bill C-2, to deliver some comments to the omnibus crime bill.
I have had the experience of serving on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and also the legislative committees that were involved with the former Bills C-10, C-22, C-27, C-32, C-35 and C-23, which is not part of the omnibus bill.
I speak with experience at least with respect to the bills and I understand how we came to be here today to speak about what the bill contains. A lot of discussion took place in the debates of the House and in committee with respect to the direction we should take with respect to our criminal justice.
It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to consider what we do when we amend the Criminal Code and its corollary acts. We are dealing with the Criminal Code. It is an organic document. It changes with the times. It is copied and exemplified by one of Canada's justice ministers and prime ministers, Sir John Thompson, from eastern Canada. It has certainly changed with the times as has our society.
In the 1890s the crimes that were top priority might have been things like cattle and horse theft, murder and some common ones. However, with the changing times, we have seen a proliferation of gang related violence, e-crimes, things that would not have existed at the turn of the century.
The point of raising that is as our society changes and the code changes, we owe it to this place, to the committees, to the law enforcement official, which include prosecutors, policemen, probation workers, corrections officers, people in the correction system and judges, quite a fraternity of people involved in the criminal justice system, to say that we looked at these various laws. We looked at how Canada was changing and at the end, we did the very best we could to keep track of what tools would be best to tackle the new problems that exist in society. It is not as if we are inventing new aspects of law. Many of these bills represent an evolution or a progression of laws that already exist.
Just briefly on the guts of the bill, if you like, Mr. Speaker, Bill C-10, which is now part of C-2, was of course dealing with the mandatory minimum provisions which were increased by the introduction of this bill, but they were not increased as much as the government had wanted them to be originally.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the opposition Bloc Québécois critic on the committee as well as the Liberal members on the committee who fought very hard to have some sense reign over the debate with respect to the evidence that was adduced at the committee hearings regarding the efficacy of mandatory minimums in general.
A review is in order. Mandatory minimums existed before the Conservative government was elected. Mandatory minimums were in place for serious crimes with the known aspect of repeat offenders and with some hope, which studies will show one way or the other, that there might be a deterrent and a safety to the public aspect of mandatory minimums.
At least on this side we joined with the Conservatives who, I would say, were very sparse in their acknowledgement that mandatory minimums existed before they came into office, but we joined with them and said that these are good tools for the law enforcement agencies and good tools in the realm of criminal justice.
It is a matter always of how far we go. How far do we go in disciplining our children? Do we take away their favourite toy? Do we ban them from seeing their friends for two weeks? Are we less severe or more severe? Many of us are parents and we deal with this every day. It is our form of the justice system that rules in our own house.
With respect to mandatory minimums, it is a question of calibrating to what extent the mandatory minimums are useful, to what extent do they work, and to what extend should they be increased, if at all.
During the debate process we were very successful in getting the government to get off its basic premise, which is if it is good for the six o'clock news and sounds robust, steady and law and orderish, then it has to be good in the Criminal Code. That is where the slip from the cup to the lip occurred, where it was obvious 90% of the witnesses were saying that the severe mandatory minimums that the government side were proposing would be inefficacious.
We can be as tough as we want, but if it does not work, if it does not make society safer, then we have not posited a good solution to the problems that face our community, and that was the case when we looked at mandatory minimums.
The happy medium that exists in Bill C-2 I think will be borne out, but it is very important to remember that this is an organic process and we could be back here some day soon, perhaps, looking at mandatory minimums in general.
How more timely could it be than in today's Ottawa Citizen, a report called “Unlocking America” is reviewed. In this report, it makes it very clear that the mandatory minimums, one of the many tools used by the American government from the 1970s on when it was felt that the rise in criminal activity was abhorrent, was not as effective as the Americans would have hope it would have been. It left the United States with 2.2 million people behind bars, more than China. The nine authors, leading U.S. criminologists, said that they were convinced that they needed a different strategy.
I am happy to report that as a result of the efforts of the NDP, Bloc and the Liberal Party in general at committee, we did not go as far as the Conservative government wanted to, which was close to where the United States had been which now New York State and New York City admits, is ineffective.
The three effects of imprisonment, and emphasis only on imprisonment, at the cost of crime prevention dollars, if you like, Mr. Speaker, is that the heavy, excessive incarceration hits minorities very hard. In the United States, 60% of the prison population is made up of Blacks and Latinos.
We heard evidence at our committee that there is a preponderance, an over-exaggerated percentage, of first nations and aboriginal people in our jail system, according to their population, which is deplorable. It is overwhelming and undisputed that the negative side effects of incarceration outweigh the potential. That is the two bits on Bill C-10,
On the other bill, Bill C-22, the close in age exemption, was never brought up. Despite all the rhetoric from the government, nothing would save Bill C-22. The issue of sexual consent being given by a person of tender years has never been put forward by any member of the opposition while the Liberal Party was in power.
The close in age exemption was never put in there, so for members of the opposite side to say that finally we dealt with the issue of sexual exploitation of 14 year olds is simply not accurate. The close in age exemption, five years between a person of the age specified, will save many relationships that should not be criminalized.
I live in Acadia. And Bill C-23 included many improvements with respect to choosing the first language of prosecutors during a trial. French is the language spoken by most people in my province. That element was very important to us in Acadia, but the government overlooked this fact.
Why did the government turn its back on the francophone people of New Brunswick in this country?
Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders
November 23rd, 2007 / 12:25 p.m.
Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-2, an Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, the so-called tackling violent crime bill, something which our party has been working on for some time. I am quite proud of the work that we have already done on this very issue. It is critically important that Canada have safe communities and that we do everything possible to ensure that.
Canada has long been and continues to be one of the safest countries in the world. Although firearm homicides decreased between 1975 and 2003, even one death, or one violent episode involving guns, is one too many. When our communities challenge that it is decreasing, I am sure the reason is that statistics do not matter if people feel unsafe in their communities. People in my riding are very concerned about this issue, as are people in other ridings. It is important that we do everything we possibly can to ensure the laws are there to protect Canadians.
The Liberal government implemented a wide variety of measures in order to make our streets safer. We had a very successful crime prevention strategy that involved more than imprisonment. There is much more required than just imprisonment, which is why the former Liberal government took a more proactive role with a wide range of measures to stem gun violence and crack down on organized crime.
Since 2002 our anti-gang legislation has meant new offences and tougher sentences, including life in prison for involvement with criminal organizations. It is currently being used in cities like mine, Toronto, where it has been used numerous times. It is a tool the police are very pleased to have and they use it to its maximum amount.
We also broadened powers to seize the proceeds and property of criminal organizations. As well, we increased funding for the national crime prevention strategy, which is something again, we cared very much about and it was very effective. The decrease in crime clearly is because the Liberal government's crime strategy was effective and it continues to be effective.
Since it was launched in 1998 the national crime prevention strategy has helped numerous communities across Canada by giving them the tools, the knowledge, and the support that they need to deal with the root causes of crime at the local level, which is where it has to start. It has supported more than 5,000 projects nation-wide dealing with serious issues like family violence, school problems, and drug abuse.
These are just some of the measures that my party, while in government, undertook. Our campaign was working, hence, the reason there has been a decrease in crime, especially in violent crime. Whether funding programs to prevent crime or ensuring that violent criminals are brought to justice, the Liberal Party while in government was and now continues to be committed to protecting our communities.
Even though we are now in opposition, we, the Liberals, have been dealing seriously with crime legislation for the past year and a half while the Conservatives have been playing partisan games and doing everything they can to prevent those bills from being passed. We actually put more effort into passing the government's crime bills in the last session than the Conservatives did. So, we will not take any lectures from them on how we should be proceeding. Had they not blocked it, the legislation would have been passed and enacted already.
People will remember that on October 26, 2006 the Liberals made the very first offer to fast track a package of justice bills through this House. In spite of the government saying something different, we made every effort to work with the Conservatives to ensure the passage of anything that would make our country safer. This included Bill C-9, as amended; Bill C-18, on DNA identification; Bill C-19, on street racing; Bill C-22, on the age of consent; Bill C-23, on criminal procedures; and Bill C-26, on payday loans. All were important legislation.
The Conservatives like to claim, as I said earlier, that the Liberals held up their justice bills, but anyone who has been paying any attention knows that simply is not true. We are doing our job as a responsible opposition party. We are certainly not going to play partisan politics with the Criminal Code. I would ask the government to keep that in mind so that we can work together in a positive way to ensure the safety of Canadians and our country.
The Liberal Party, while in government, made great progress on making our communities safer. As I mentioned earlier, we increased funding for the national crime prevention strategy. We took steps to prevent gun violence by cracking down on organized crime in a very concentrated effort across the country. We focused on attacking the root causes of why people get involved in organized crime. We worked together with all of the crime prevention people across the country and with all of the officials in the various policing jurisdictions, because it certainly takes a coordinated effort in order to tackle organized crime.
When we are back in government, and we look forward to and expect to be the government after the next election, we have our own plans.
A new Liberal government would immediately provide additional funds to the provinces so they could hire more police officers. We would give the RCMP money for 400 additional officers to help local police departments deal with guns and gang activity, organized crime and drug trafficking.
We would also ensure that more money was made available to the provinces to hire more crown attorneys, which continues to be a problem and clogs the courts. It is one thing to arrest people but it is another thing to get them through the system.
We would continue to support reverse onus bail hearings for those arrested for gun crimes. We would establish a fund that would help at-risk communities cover the cost of security in their places of worship, which was started by the previous Liberal government, but which unfortunately was abandoned by the Conservatives.
A new Liberal government would make sure that children in vulnerable neighbourhoods got the very best start in life. We hear that all the time. It costs approximately $120,000 a year for each person who is kept in prison. We would reverse that and invest right at the very beginning. We are talking about early learning programs and high risk communities.
I represent a high risk community and I talk to many of the kids and their parents. Those parents are struggling to keep their kids on the straight and narrow. They truly need a variety of programs and help at that point. I realize that the Conservatives understand that as well. It is important to be investing early so that we can keep kids out of the justice system and make sure they know they have options and alternatives in life so that they are not dragged into the drug and gang culture, which is clearly happening now.
Many of the parents I talk to, the single mothers, are frantic with worry. They are looking for other places to live where it will be safer, where their kids will not be drawn into the gang activity that is very prevalent in my own riding.
By ensuring that children get the best possible start in life, we will be encouraging them to become positive contributing members of society and do not fall victims to poverty and crime. From providing resources for young mothers to interact and to learn about nutrition, to supplying early learning opportunities for their precious children, our communities need our support and we must provide it.
We invested in many worthwhile crime prevention initiatives. A few of those programs are the gun violence and gang prevention fund, support for community based youth justice programs and partnerships to promote fair and effective processes, community investments through the youth employment strategy, and the justice department's programming and partnerships to provide hope and opportunities.
We also committed another $2 million to the city of Toronto in support of programming under the Liberal government's youth employment strategy. This was all part of the $122 million that was dedicated to the youth employment strategy programming to help youth across the country.
Conflict Mediation Services of Downsview was a not for profit organization that helped people and families, workplaces, schools and neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, its restorative justice program was not funded because priorities have changed of course with the new government, and that no longer fits into that grouping.
In closing, I would like to say that this legislation is important. We look forward to it getting through the House and being enacted as we all move forward in a joint effort to ensure safety. Our communities will appreciate it.
October 30th, 2007 / 4:45 p.m.
Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much, Minister, for your presentation. There are a few facts I would like to raise before asking you two questions. I will be very brief.
On October 26, 2006, the Liberals made the first offer to fast-track a package of justice bills through the House. This included Bill C-9 as it had been amended; Bill C-18, which is the DNA identification; Bill C-19, street racing; Bill C-22, age of consent, which we now find as part of Bill C-9,; Bill C-23, criminal procedure; and Bill C-26, payday loans. This offer effectively guaranteed the Conservative government a majority in the House to pass those pieces of legislation, including the one that is in Bill C-9, the age of consent, at that time. Had the government accepted the Liberal offer, Bill C-22, the age of consent, would have become the law before the end of 2006 and our children would no longer have been vulnerable to sexual predators.
On March 14, the Honourable Stéphane Dion, leader of the official opposition, added Bill C-35, bail reform, to the list of bills that the Liberal caucus was offering to the Conservative government to fast-track. Despite again this offer of majority support, it took the Conservatives until May 30 to actually move it up on the order paper so that it would get to committee.
Finally, on March 21, 2007, Liberals again attempted to use an opposition day motion that, if passed, would have immediately resulted in the passage at all stages of four justice bills: Bill C-18, DNA identification; Bill C-22, age of consent, which is the bill that we see again before the House in your tackling crime bill, Bill C-9; Bill C-23, criminal procedure; and Bill C-35, bail reform. Incredibly, the Conservative House Leader raised a procedural point of order to block the motion. In other words, the Conservatives have in fact fought the Liberals' attempts three times to pass justice bills, including the one that's incorporated in Bill C-9.
Now, I notice that in Bill C-9, the section that deals with the dangerous offender, two categories of amendments have been brought forward. One deals with the long-term offenders. A breach of supervision orders, for instance, could trigger a new dangerous offender hearing in order to make them liable to the kinds of sentences that dangerous offenders can be liable to. Minister, if you studied the transcripts of the House committee that studied Bill C-27, or was in the process of studying it last spring before the prorogation of the House, you would see that Liberals actually made proposals for the very kinds of amendments that we now find in the Bill C-27 section of Bill C-2, and they received support from the Canadian Police Association, Mr. Tony Cannavino, and from other witnesses who appeared and who thought it was a great idea and that it would actually strengthen Bill C-27 and make the system more effective.
So I'm pleased that the government listened; however, we also made another proposal. Right now the Crown continues to enjoy discretionary authority as to whether or not an application for remand and assessment for a dangerous offender designation will actually be made, and so your reverse presumption will operate and become effective only if the Crown makes that application. Liberals had been proposing that a third conviction automatically trigger a dangerous offender hearing. That would then allow every single offender who had been convicted three times of a type of crime that can lead to a dangerous offender hearing to actually be called before such a hearing, to actually be assessed and evaluated.
May I ask why the government has decided, in its wisdom, not to go forward with an automatic trigger rather than a reverse presumption, which will possibly never or very rarely be put into effect because the Crown retains the discretionary authority to make the application or not?
I am finished.
Criminal CodeRoutine proceedings
October 29th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.
Niagara Falls Ontario
Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments).
Mr. Speaker, pursuant to the special order made previously, I would l like to inform the House that this bill is in the same form as Bill C-23 at time of prorogation.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders
October 26th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating what the government considers to be the most important component of the throne speech presented a few days ago, Bill C-2.
First of all, there is a myth that I would like to dispel. On several occasions the members on the government side have unfortunately taken some liberties with the truth. They have suggested that, in this Parliament, the opposition parties—the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP—did not cooperate, that they acted like spoilsports and had unduly and excessively delayed passage of the justice bills. We need to set the record straight. This presentation of the facts is false, dishonest and, at the very least, misleading.
Since coming into power in January 2006, the Conservative government has tabled 12 justice bills. They were studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the legislative committee and six of them have received royal assent. Therefore, since the government came into office in January 2006, six bills have been adopted and received royal assent.
I will mention them quickly, for information purposes: Bill C-9, on conditional sentencing; Bill C-17, on the salaries of judges; Bill C-18, on the DNA data bank; Bill C-19, which was meant as a tribute to a Conservative member who unfortunately passed away, and which makes street racing a new offence under the Criminal Code; the fifth bill, namely Bill C-48, on the United Nations Convention against Corruption and on international crime, was fast-tracked and supported by all opposition parties and the government; finally, the sixth one, is Bill C-59, creating a new offence, under the Criminal Code, for the unauthorized recording of a movie in a movie theatre. That legislation was quickly passed, at the request of the Bloc Québécois, which had enlisted the support of the official opposition and of the NDP.
Again, of the 12 bills introduced by the government, six received royal assent. That left six, with four of them being in the Senate. That was the case for Bill C-10, on minimum penalties for offences involving firearms, and for Bill C-22, on the age of protection. The Conservatives proposed to raise the age of protection from 14 to 16 years. As mentioned earlier, opposition parties requested that a close in age provision be included, to provide for a difference of five or two years, depending on the age being considered.
As I just mentioned, Bill C-10 and Bill C-22 were before the Senate. Bill C-23, which is a rather technical bill on the language used during a trial before a jury, was also before the Senate, as was Bill C-35, dealing with the reverse onus, at the pre-trial hearing, for a number of very serious offences. The committee was told that this was already the usual practice, and that a justice of the peace or a superior court judge very rarely grants bail at the pre-trial hearing, when the individual is accused of murder, assault or sexual assault. This was already an established practice.
In summary, six bills have been passed and have received royal assent, and four had already gone through third reading in the House of Commons and were in the Senate. This left us with two bills: the dangerous offenders bill, Bill C-27, which I will address later, and Bill C-32 dealing with impaired driving.
Could the Prime Minister and the Conservative team be asked to be a little more relaxed and show a more nuanced and respectful attitude toward the opposition?
We are going to do our job. In the past, we have given the government our cooperation when that was necessary, but we have introduced amendments because, unfortunately, an entire segment of the Conservative caucus has no idea of nuances. I will give examples. Had Bill C-32 been passed as written, without amendments, anyone driving his or her own car with a passenger on board who was in possession of a small amount of marijuana could have faced prosecution or arrest.
Was that the purpose of the legislation? This bill was intended to address a public safety issue, recognizing that no one should be operating a vehicle on public roadways while under the influence of drugs, and to allow for drivers to be subjected to standardized tests known as standardized field sobriety tests. The intention certainly was not to pass legislation to target drivers carrying drugs without their knowledge. That could happen. I could give three people a ride to my cottage without knowing that one of them has marijuana in his or her pocket. This would have made me liable to prosecution.
This is the sort of excess the Conservatives are guilty of, when we are talking about a bill, a motivation, and an intent that are utterly defensible in terms of public policy. But when the Conservatives are left to their own devices, when they are ruled by that extreme wing of their caucus and blinded by the idea of law and order, they come up with bills that have to be amended.
Conditional sentencing has been mentioned. When we began looking at Bill C-9, the first justice bill the Conservatives introduced—the member for London West will recall—we were told that conditional sentences represented only 5% of sentences.
If you look at all the sentences handed down in all the courts in Canada in recent years for which records have been kept, you see that conditional sentences, which allow offenders to serve their sentence in the community under supervision, represented only 5% of sentences.
If we had adopted the bill as introduced by the Conservatives, all offences punishable by more than two years in prison might have been excluded from this tool judges have for determining how a sentence can be served in the community.
I repeat that I am extremely disappointed with the attitude of the Prime Minister, who asks the opposition to vote for bills, but will not tolerate any amendments to those bills. How can anyone be so authoritarian? How can anyone be so cavalier? How can anyone be so disrespectful of Canadian democracy and tell the 57% or 58% of Canadians who did not elect Conservative members that if their representatives do not fall into line with the Conservative platform, they cannot introduce amendments in this House?
I assure my colleagues that we are going to consider the issue and that we will work very quickly, with all due diligence. And we will introduce amendments if we feel that they are in the interest of the people we represent.
The government wants this bill to go to committee quickly. The leaders have agreed on this. Later today, the whip will introduce a motion, and once again we have offered to cooperate.
Next week, we will have this bill before us, but we will not allow ourselves to be led by the nose by this government. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they were intractable and often mean-spirited. They constantly, systematically filibustered. Never have I seen such filibustering. Sometimes it went on day and night.
The current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food did the filibustering. He led this House in circles regarding employment equity. At the time, I was a young, naive and vulnerable member. I had just been elected and was experiencing my first filibuster. Furthermore, the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was uncompromising on the issue of employment equity, which was under the responsibility of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
They cannot have it both ways. A person cannot say that it is fine to filibuster when they are in opposition, only to turn around, once they are in the governing party, and refuse the opposition's right to present amendments. This is irresponsible and disrespectful.
Bill C-2 merges five pieces of legislation. Of those pieces of legislation, the Bloc Québécois supported four of them, with amendments. In committee, of course, we will not ask to repeat the work that has already been done.
However, we have a problem with Bill C-27, concerning dangerous offenders. As we all know, the Criminal Code has included provisions on this matter since 1947. In the past, we did not use the term dangerous offender, but rather habitual criminal. I wonder whether certain members, those who have been practising law for some time, remember that expression. The Liberals already changed those provisions by creating a new category of dangerous offenders—long-term offenders—in Bill C-55.
What is our line of questioning? I would like to be clear. I am telling the government that the Bloc Québécois would like to see three main groups of witnesses. First, we would like to hear constitutional experts on the constitutionality of the reverse onus principle, in the same terms in which this bill was presented.
We would then like to see a second group of witnesses. I would remind the House that when the Minister of Justice appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he was unable to tell us what it is about the administrative and judicial process for dangerous offenders that is not working.
Currently, a person can be labelled a dangerous offender after committing a first serious offence. Section 753 of the Criminal Code is very clear. If there is any reason to believe that that an individual is likely to cause a death, is out of control, or is likely to reoffend, that person can be declared a dangerous offender after a first offence. I am not saying that this is what usually happens. We are not talking about a large number of people here. About 350 people have been declared dangerous offenders, and some of them have been released under mandatory supervision. Of course, most of them are inside federal prisons.
We will run this by constitutional experts. It is our responsibility to ensure that this bill is not unconstitutional. We will ask people who make their living dealing with this issue before the courts to explain to us which parts of the current legislation are not working.
We will also ask a third group of witnesses about the list of offences. In the bill before us today, five types of offences would result in an individual being declared a dangerous offender. Naturally, most of them are serious crimes, such as attempted murder, murder, homicide and serious sexual crimes.
The government wants to expand this list to include 42 offences. The preliminary list includes 22 offences, one of which is assault. I do not wish to downplay the importance of assault. However, should an individual who has been convicted of assault three times be put on a list of dangerous offenders, with all of the consequences that entails?
There is a list of designated offences, which, I agree, are offences generally punishable by a sentence of more than five years. The question is, do we need to take this further? Is it important to have these two lists of offences?
Why ask this question? We are not questioning the fact that we need provisions in the Criminal Code for people who are so dangerous and present such a risk of recidivism that they need to be designated long term offenders, or dangerous offenders. A dangerous offender is someone who can be imprisoned for an indefinite period. Obviously, they are denied their freedom and denied eligibility for parole. Certainly—and I am not afraid to say so—this is justified in some situations. We understand that for some individuals there is no chance for rehabilitation and they have to be imprisoned for an indeterminate period.
Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to ensure that if we are going to pass legislation that considerably broadens the scope of this rule—which is in fact an exception to the general rule—then we have to be able to verify the facts in committee in order to make sure there is no risk of abuse or excess.
As hon. members know, the Conservatives are driven by partisan political considerations. That is “partisan” with a capital “P”.
As it stands, the crime rate has gone down in Canada. In any event, the homicide rate has gone down. The incidence of violent crime has gone down. I am not saying there has not been a worrisome increase in property crime in certain communities. However, generally speaking, we know full well that for a number of years now, major crime, such as homicide—crimes involving violence—has gone down year after year.
Criminologists who have studied these issues are saying that there is no correlation between a reliance on imprisonment and lower crime rates in a society. We do not live in a safer society and the communities are not safer because of widespread prison sentencing.
We know that the United States has an incarceration rate seven times greater than Canada's. In Canada, there are 132 or 134 prisoners for every 100,000 people.
Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders
October 26th, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.
Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I did not realize we were going to be moving on this quickly, which is a good development because it will move these bills along, as opposed to the government's approach, which has been one of delay.
In that regard, I want to do a quick resumé of what has happened in this Parliament starting in roughly mid-February of 2006, at which time we were faced with a large number of crime bills by the government. I took the opportunity to go through the list of bills that have been dealt with in one form or another.
The list was quite lengthy, starting with Bill C-9, which was a bill on conditional sentencing. That went through both Houses and has royal assent. There was one on the Judges Act, Bill C-17, and it also went through all stages. Another one relating to DNA identification went through all stages. As for Bill C-19 on street racing, a particularly emotional point for the Conservative Party, we got that one through. There was one on criminal interest rates, Bill C-26, and it got through. There was one, Bill C-48, which dealt with international crime syndicates and the need to fight corruption at that level, coming out of the UN, and it got through. The next one, dealing with the illegal recording of movies, went very quickly through the House with all parties cooperating. It never even went to committee.
In addition to that, we have had Bill C-22, which actually is part of Bill C-2, the bill that is before us now, passed at second reading in the Senate. It went through the House all the way to the Senate. We have had Bill C-10, an important bill on mandatory minimums, go through this House and into the Senate, where it was at first reading.
Similarly, Bill C-23 went through this House and got to the Senate, but it is not part of this bill. I am not sure if the government is going to bring that one back or not. On Bill C-35, which was the bill dealing with bail reviews involving alleged gun crimes and the reverse onus being placed, again, it got through all the work in this House and went to the Senate.
The final bill with regard to work that we had done and which was almost through this House was the bill dealing with impaired driving. That had cleared the committee and was coming back to the House. It would have been back in the House if we had not prorogued in the middle part of September.
These are all the bills we have had from the government. The final bill was still in committee and we had just started on it. We had three or four meetings taking witnesses on that bill, which deals with dangerous offenders and amendments to recognizance in the Criminal Code.
In addition, there were at least four to six private members' bills, all of them coming from the Conservative Party interestingly enough, which we dealt with and passed or dealt with in some fashion. One had to be withdrawn. We dealt with those as well.
All of that work was being done at the justice committee, with the exception, and this is really interesting, of two bills that went to special legislative committees. Because the justice committee's workload was so great, we moved them into special committees. However, we worked on those bills and got them through.
All of that is work we have done in a little over 18 months, yet in spite of that, there are two things the government does. It constantly complains about the length of time it takes, in regard to which the Conservatives could have done much better by originally having omnibus bills. I have said that in the House to the point where I am almost sick of hearing it myself, and I am sure everyone else in the House is, but it is the way they should have conducted themselves. Of course, though, because of their political agenda of wanting to highlight each one of these bills, they did not put them together. They finally came to their senses and realized that it is a way of moving bills through the House more rapidly.
However, we did all of that work, and now what we are hearing, which is the second point I want to make about the government, is that the delay is the fault of the opposition. That is absolutely false.
One can see from the length of the list of bills we have had to deal with, plus the private members' bills, plus working on two legislative committees in addition to all the work that we have done at justice, that nobody in the opposition has done any delaying. The delay with regard to the five bills that are incorporated now into Bill C-2 is entirely at the feet of the government. It prorogued and that cost us a month.
It is interesting to note what could have happened in that one month's time. It is my opinion that all three of the bills that were in the Senate would have been through and ready for royal assent, which again is in the hands of the government. If the government had conducted itself with any kind of efficiency, those bills probably would be law today.
The fourth bill, the one dealing with impaired driving, which again is part of Bill C-2, would have come to the House in the middle part of September when we came back. There was not a great deal of debate, and although I and my party have some reservations about it, we in fact would support it.
The bill would have had some debate in the House at report stage and third reading, but it would have been through the House and at least at first reading in the Senate now, perhaps at second reading. It is not beyond the pale to think that the bill also would have cleared the Senate and would have been ready for royal assent.
This bill bothers me. Of all the ones we have, this one bothers me the most because of the conduct of the government in dealing with the individuals, including the police officers and police associations, who lobbied really heavily to get this legislation, and in particular the families and supporters of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It bothers me that the government would have misused the loyalty and the support that those groups had given to the bill by leading them to believe that somehow it was the opposition that was holding it up, when in fact it was prorogation. Now there is this tactic of combining that bill with the other bills to actually slow down its passage. Otherwise there is a reasonably good chance it would have been law by now, and if not, it would have been in its final stages at the Senate and it certainly would have been law by the end of the year.
That is much less likely to happen now. It is more likely that this bill will not get final approval and royal assent until well into the spring, no matter what the government tries to do. Quite frankly we will do whatever we can to be cooperative in moving these bills forward.
Our party was quite prepared to have all four of those bills that I have mentioned which form 80% of Bill C-2 back at their original stages, again so they would be law or on the verge of becoming law, that is, receiving royal assent today, as opposed to what is likely to happen now. It is going to be into the new year and maybe well into the spring before these bills become law, assuming of course that the government does not collapse and there is an election, which is another problem.
The government has delayed it, and in addition, it has clearly pushed it back at least until the new year, with the real possibility of an election intervening and a number of these provisions never seeing the light of day until after the election, when we would come back and start the process all over again.
That is reprehensible conduct on the part of the government. The only reason the Conservatives are doing it is so they can stand up in public and say, “We are tough on crime”. They do the macho thing. They beat their chests. They do the King Kong thing as if they are coming out of a jungle. The reality is that the delay is all at their feet.
I am really angry when I think of all the work that so many groups have done, the victims of crime in particular, and now are being misused by the government in such a way.
I am not going to take up much more time but I do want to address the final bill that was at committee. Former Bill C-27 is now part of Bill C-2. It deals with two amendments to the Criminal Code. One would be on the provisions relating to dangerous offenders and the other is with regard to recognizance.
With regard to recognizance, I think I can safely say that all the opposition parties are in support of those provisions. They give additional authority to our judiciary to deal with people who are out in the community on their own recognizance, but we can put additional conditions on them.
The bill provides for things such as requiring them to wear a monitoring device. There is a number of other provisions that would substantially improve security in our communities regarding people who have now been released from charges and who have already served their time. It is a substantial step forward and one that has been needed.
I have said this in the House before, that when I started practising law back in the early 1970s we needed it at that time. Successive governments have tended to shy away from it. Our judiciary has attempted on a number of occasions to introduce these types of control devices, if I could put it that way, in terms of sentencing or conditions imposed on people and it has consistently lost in our courts of appeal. It required legislative intervention. The provision is in this bill and we need to pass that and get it into play so our judges can do a better job of helping protect Canadians, which they want to do.
The other part in this provision, the old Bill C-27 now part of Bill C-2, is with regard to dangerous offenders. We have significant problems with this. Originally when the bill came before the House as Bill C-27, all three opposition parties indicated that on principle they had to vote against it because it has a provision of reverse onus with regard to the dangerous offender.
All of us believe that that part of the bill would suffer a charter challenge that would be successful in striking it down. What I do not think the government has ever understood is that not only would it be struck down, but perhaps the whole dangerous offender section would be struck down. Just as we saw with the security certificates where the Supreme Court said that if it could not be fixed, they were all going down, the same type of thing could happen in a ruling on dangerous offenders. The government has never understood that.
Ultimately, the opposition parties decided that there were perhaps ways of amending this in committee to improve the use of the dangerous offender section, because we know we need to do that, and at the same time make sure that the section was not jeopardized by a successful charter challenge at some point in the future.
We were working on that when we ended in June. We fully expected that was one of the bills for the special legislative committee and that we would be back and working on it in September, that we would complete the witness testimony and improve the bill by way of amendment and if not, then I suppose we would have been faced with a conundrum of whether we could support it or not. That is where we are at this point.
That bill needs significant work in order to be sure that we do not lose the entire dangerous offender section of the Criminal Code. We will be doing that work as soon as we can get the committee up and running again and the bill into the committee.
It is very clear that the government, and I do not say this about the opposition parties, is prepared to play politics with public safety. The Conservatives want to be seen as the champions and they are prepared to take these kinds of manoeuvres of delaying these bills by incorporating them all into Bill C-2 so that they can do that. They want to stand up in the House and in the media and out on the hustings and say “we are the champions of it”, when in fact the truth is just the opposite. They were guilty. They are guilty of delay. The opposition parties are not.
Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders
October 26th, 2007 / 10:35 a.m.
Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, on Bill C-2 and justice issues in general, I heard just recently in the House the term “a revolving door”. The only revolving door is the justice minister and officials in the Conservative Party going in and out of press conferences announcing and reannouncing the same bills on which they pulled the plug.
With respect to Bill C-2, I have reviewed all the material. I sat in on all the committee hearings. What I have recently discovered, through obtaining a bill briefing, is a note from the Prime Minister about Bill C-2, in that it regurgitates all the bills we dealt with in the last Parliament. The message from the Prime Minister is that he is sorry that he pulled the plug on Parliament and flushed all the good work of the justice committee down the drain.
That is what happened. All these bills were well on their way. They were going through the due process of Parliament, which followed the rules of parliaments before, and they were on the way to being in effect.
The reason we are here today is that the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament and those bills were killed in their tracks. It is not true that perhaps that is why the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament but I think it is. In fact, I think that is why we have a new session.
I may be new and I may be in the back row but I read the papers and I know what is going on. Parliament was prorogued and all legislation was stopped in its tracks.
What is important to remind ourselves, and the Canadian public will want to know, is that there were 13 bills in the justice dossier and 7 of them were passed and are now the law of Canada.
As a member of the justice committee, I would expect all parties to tell all members of the justice committee that it was a job well done, that seven out of thirteen justice bills that affect the citizens of Canada are now law. Five of those bills are currently the subject of Bill C-2, which I will turn to, and one, mysteriously, of the thirteen bills, the criminal procedure act, which all parties agreed to unanimously, was a creature of a previous Parliament and which all prosecutors are waiting intently for. These prosecutors are the people who are on the front lines, as well as the police officers, in the criminal justice system. I suppose they are wondering why, despite the offer to fast track the bill by this party and despite the unanimous support by the justice committee, Bill C-23 has not been moved up. Perhaps in the government's haste and the revolving door of the press circle and the press club, it forgot to bring along an important bill.
Overall, the 13 bills, the 7 passed and the 1 dropped by an incompetent justice minister and the parliamentary secretary for forgetting that, and the 5 we are about to discuss, all of these bills need to be enforced. Each police officer, prosecutor, probation officer and corrections official, all those people in the system need to know that if there are 13 new laws, 12 because 1 was dropped by the incompetent ministry, but if there are 12 new bills we need to know we have the resources to put them into effect.
It is urgent for the public to know that despite a promise by the government, the law and order government, the tough on crime government, it is toothless without following up on the promise of 2,500 new police officers and the false promise in the Speech from the Throne for 1,000 new RCMP officers when the RCMP cannot recruit 1,000 officers. It is behind in its recruitment. It is a meaningless, toothless promise to the people of Canada but, even worse, it takes away the hope of the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, the prosecutors and the probation officers, all the people who must put into effect, on a daily basis, the laws of the justice system.
I want to emphasize that the party on this side of the House is not so fickle. We support our justice system. We support our judges, our prosecutors, and all of the police officers who are responsible for protecting Canadians.
Over the past 18 months, the Liberal Party has undertaken a thorough review of the legislation pertaining to crime while the Conservatives have been busy playing political games. The Prime Minister put an end to this Parliament's activities and committee work, thereby throwing out the amendments that this bill sought to make to five acts. It is his fault that these five acts have not yet been amended.
We on this side of the House have faith in our justice system and are convinced that it will keep the peace in our communities.
I say that because it should be a non-partisan issue that we all believe in a safe community. We are all here as parliamentarians, surely, to ensure that we have a safe community. We may differ on the avenue to get there, but how much did we, the Liberal Party of Canada and its members on the justice committee, really differ from the plan of the Conservative Party in general and, more importantly, in the organic process which is called the development of criminal law through amendments to the Criminal Code?
I say to the House and to the public: not much.
There were 13 bills proposed. Seven passed and there are five in Bill C-2 that we are substantially in agreement on because they would have been law by now had Parliament not been prorogued, and I must say for the record that there is one that has been dropped by the government and that we are also in favour of.
So how is it that we, in trying to keep the community safe, are against the elements in Bill C-2 and the elements in these bills? I will repeat them: Bill C-9, on conditional sentences; Bill C-18, on DNA identification; Bill C-19, on street racing; Bill C-25, on proceeds of crime; Bill C-26, on criminal rate of interest; and just to add two others that were not part of Bill C-2, Bill C-48, on the implementation of a UN convention against corruption, and Bill C-59, on the unauthorized recording of a movie. These have all been supported.
But there is more. I hear members on the opposite side talk about 13 years of inaction with respect to criminal justice and I think the Canadian public would be interested to know that these laws, while continuing on the evolution of our criminal law and making our community safer, are but part of the Criminal Code of Canada.
On the Criminal Code of Canada, I might say this in a moment of non-partisanship and to congratulate a Conservative politician, albeit a dead one.When Prime Minister John Thompson, a Conservative prime minister, was minister of justice he essentially created and adapted the criminal law of Canada into a code that we would follow in this country. I want to get credit for giving plaudits to a Conservative in this place.
A principal part of the Criminal Code of Canada, which we have been talking about since I have been in Parliament, is sentencing. What is sentencing? The purpose and principles of sentencing are set out in section 718. I hear very often in this place and at the revolving door of the press conference centre for the Conservative Party of Canada that there is but one principle in sentencing, that is, to put the bad guys away.
I know this is a novel concept for those who are directing the Conservative justice agenda, but why do we not refer to what the law says about the purpose and principles of sentencing? They are set out in section 718. I am not going to read this word for word because it tends to be bogged down in particularness and assuredness and literal things that, again, the Conservative justice team really knows nothing about, having adopted and written such sloppy legislation that it had to be sent to committee to be fixed.
However, in general, there are six important factors or principles in sentencing. It is the reason we have sentences for people who have committed crimes. One principle is to denounce unlawful conduct. That is the one I hear about most often from the Conservative justice team. That is a valid principle, but it is one of six.
What are the others? One is to deter the offender from doing it again. That is another one I hear a lot about. The point over here is that those two of the six are very important. We are not shirking the importance of those. The law does not say that any one is more important than the other. It is a guidepost to judges who make our law pursuant to what they read here. It is a guidepost to say that we will denounce unlawful conduct. Yes, we will, by bringing in this sentence. We will deter the person or any person in the public from doing it again. They are two very important objectives.
However, that is where the Conservative justice team stops most of the time. The Conservatives forget that they must separate offenders from society when necessary and that they must assist in rehabilitating offenders. This is not to mean that the criminal gets more justice than the victim. What it means is that if there is a chance to rehabilitate an offender before that offender is reintegrated into society, or after, we ought to take that chance. Society is not safer, and let us remember that this safety is the principal goal of all parliamentarians here, by sending a more dangerous person back into the community after his or her sentence is served. It is a very important principle, as important as deterrence and as important as denouncing unlawful conduct.
The fifth aspect is to provide reparations for harm done to victims. That is very key. I will get into speaking about Bill C-9, which was a failed bill and flawed until it was amended at committee by all parties. One of the key aspects of Bill C-9 was to amend it to allow some white collar criminals, for lack of a better term, who had done a very denunciatory offence, which should be deterred, such as acts of stealing money through a breach of trust from someone, say, the option of a conditional sentence. It was to allow them to make reparations and restitution during the term of their sentence when it might mean the difference between an aged person with a stolen RRSP account getting that money back or not.
It gave back discretion to the judge, which he or she had in the first place, and it was a very necessary amendment to a flawed and hasty bill to make sure that this principle of sentencing, that is, to provide reparation for harm done to victims, was put in place. It was made better law by the intervention of the committee.
The final principle is to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, an acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and to the community. What that is about is making sure that these offenders are not so divorced from the community in which they live, so that they know when they have done wrong that they have a responsibility to that community to be remorseful, to make amends and, I think very importantly, to reintegrate into that community if possible. We should never forget that.
The overall principle, and it is written as the fundamental principle in section 718.1 of the code, is that of the proportionality, of the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. This is a very important principle, which judges rely on all the time.
I hear members speak about 13 years of Liberal inactivity. Actually I was not here for any of those 13 years. I was on the outside looking at all of the criminal justice bills that had been brought in during that time. I remember that it was a Liberal minister of justice who brought in the whole concept of mandatory minimums, which at the revolving door of the Conservatives' press circle was as if it was invented by them. I wonder if they invented the laws of gravity and found the North American continent. I suspect not, Mr. Speaker, and I do not suppose you could answer objectively if they say they have somewhere else, but I am not sure that they would not stand here and say that they have.
They did not invent mandatory minimums. The other sentencing principles in section 718.2 were brought in, in successive Liberal governments, by amendments in 1995, 1997, 2000, 2001 and 2005. All of those amendments in section 718.2 were brought in to recognize the changing nature of our society and to allow judges for the first time in the history of the Criminal Code to take into account these factors when sentencing, either in increasing or in decreasing the sentences, and I am very proud of that.
These factors include evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate. It is the first time that it was codified that a judge should take into account hate crimes when sentencing. For any crimes committed based on someone's ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation and other factors, is it not correct, right and fair in this society that those sentences were brought in and that judges should be told to take into account those factors in section 718.2, or whether the violence was against a spouse or common law partner?
Is it not important, for instance, that a judge be given that discretion to increase a sentence if the crime was against a spouse or a common law partner, or if the crime was done to a person of tender years under the age of 18? Is it not important that this be taken into account?
Is it not important, as it says in subparagraph 718.2(a)(iii), whether or not the person who committed the crime “abused a position of trust or authority”, or also whether the person was a member of a criminal organization, or that the offence was a terrorism offence?
All of these factors were in judges' hands before 2005. These were not invented by the Newtons over there in the last 18 months. They were there, it was Liberal legislation, and I presume it had all party support because it makes such sense.
Finally, in the principles of sentencing categories, paragraph 718.2(e) has the all important factor of recognizing that if an offender is of aboriginal origin or from a first nations community special circumstances should be put in place. We found during much of the deliberation at committee that this sentencing principle was often ignored.
I look at the amendments in place with respect to Bill C-10 and Bill C-9. It is a particular affront to this established sentencing principle, and it seems to have been completely forgotten by the Conservative government, that these two important sections of the code had existed before the Conservative government took place and certainly will exist when it moves on into the sunset.
About the laws in Bill C-2 and why it is so easy on this side for us to say we support the bill, it is important to remember that we on this side, and the members of the justice committee from the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois will vouch for this, and the members of the justice committee had made Bill C-10 and the mandatory minimum aspect a better bill when it left committee. Arrogantly, and without respect for the work of the all party committee, the Conservative justice team, coming yet again from the revolving door of the press club, suggested that it would put in at report stage the entire bill as it was before.
However, over the summer I think the Conservatives had blueberry festivals and strawberry festivals and must have eaten some humble pie at some festival, as they decided that they would accept the amendments as they came from the committee, reintroducing Bill C-2 with the Bill C-10 amendments to make our community a better place and enlarge upon the mandatory minimums that were already in place under the Liberal justice program before the Conservatives took office.
The other bill that needs clarification on why it is an acceptable bill now, and why it was never acceptable when the amateur Conservative justice team brought the topic up before, is Bill C-22, the age of consent bill.
I have heard well-meaning, honest and forthright members of the House, such as the member for Wild Rose, say that he and his colleagues could never get an age of consent or age of protection bill through the Commons. I was disturbed by that. I asked why we would not protect our young persons. Why would we not get in line with many of the communities around the world which recognize that consent may not be freely given by a 14 year old when the world has become smaller and the age of the predator is upon us?
I looked into it. There were two very fundamental flaws with all bills that were presented as part of a justice package by an opposition entitled the Conservative opposition. They are as follows.
There was absolutely no close in age exemption. This bill, Bill C-22, contains a close in age exemption, making it flexible enough to recognize that not every relationship that is separated by a number of years is a relationship between an innocent young child and a sexual predator.
Finally, as I wrap up, age of consent as presented previously would have criminalized normal adolescent sexual activity which, whether the Conservatives like it or not, is out there, and 14 year olds and 15 year olds having relations are protected by this. It does prevent sexual predators from preying on the young. It is good legislation.
In summary, the five bills in Bill C-2 are good law because the committee made them so. I encourage the Conservative justice team, the Prime Minister and all Conservatives out there to watch what they write, to watch what they present to Parliament, and to not keep going through that revolving door called the press circle to give press releases without having done their homework to ensure that they are passing good laws which will make Canada safer.
Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne
October 23rd, 2007 / 10:20 a.m.
Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your team a good session, and to welcome the new pages as they start their new jobs.
No one will be surprised if I speak specifically about justice. Overall, the Bloc Québécois was disappointed in the throne speech. Our leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, clearly indicated our conditions and expectations.
We also spoke about the Kyoto protocol. We clearly wanted the government to confirm that it would follow through with the commitment we made when Kyoto was signed: to bring greenhouse gases down to their 1990 levels and then reduce them further still. We do not have a green government—this we know. This government is very irresponsible when it comes to the environment, and the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has had many opportunities to speak about this.
We would also have liked the government to agree with the views of many important representatives of civil society and our fellow citizens, that Canada's mission in Afghanistan must end in 2009. Since the beginning of the mission we have been critical of the fact that there has not been a satisfactory balance of development assistance, international cooperation and military objectives.
Obviously we hope that attention will be focused on the entire question of forestry and the manufacturing sector. We know what hard times those sectors have experienced. Certainly we hope that supply management will also be discussed, for it is an extremely important issue in rural communities. And we hope that the government will eliminate the spending power in relation to matters under provincial jurisdiction. There have been calls for this for 50 years, and the Bloc Québécois is certainly not going to be satisfied with the government’s dishonest subterfuge.
With that introduction, we must now talk about the justice system. First, what an exercise in cosmetics this is, what an exercise in stage management! Watching the press conference given by the Minister of Justice, his colleague the Minister of Public Safety, and the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, we had the impression that we were attending a play by Molière, starring Tartuffe. We were given to think that since the Conservatives took power in 2006 the House of Commons has been the victim of obstruction when it comes to the justice system. We were also given to think that the government has been prevented from having its justice initiative passed.
And yet when we look a little closer, we see that since January 2006 the Conservative government has tabled 12 bills relating to the justice system. As we speak, six of those bills have received royal assent and have thus become law. Of those six bills that have become law, three were passed using what is called the fast-track procedure, with the unanimous consent of all leaders in the House of Commons.
So out of 12 bills, six have become law, and three of those were passed with the consent of all parties using the fast-track procedure; four reached the Senate, at first, second and third reading, while both in the House and in committee there were only two bills remaining. It has to be said that in parliamentary history there have been more vigorous examples of obstruction. When six bills receive royal assent, four are being considered in the Senate and only two are left, you cannot, in all honesty, appear at a press conference and say that you have been unable to get your bills passed.
For the benefit of our constituents, I will mention the bills that were passed.
First, there was Bill C-9, on conditional sentences. It is true that we did propose some amendments. It is our job to do that. We are a responsible opposition. What is the role of the opposition? It is to ensure that bill are improved and made as perfect as possible. We would be completely irresponsible if we did not do our work. As far as the bill on conditional sentences is concerned, the government ultimately wanted to do away with that option for judges and we highlighted that.
Bill C-17, which dealt with judges’ salaries, was also passed, followed by Bill C-18, a rather technical bill on DNA data banks. Moreover, in tribute to our unfortunately deceased colleague, Bill C-19, which creates a new offence under the Criminal Code with regard to street racing, was passed unanimously.
Two other bills were passed within 48 hours, which is an indication of the cooperation among opposition parties. One of those two was introduced by the Bloc Québécois, because of incidents of piracy, the unauthorized use of camcorders to record movies in theatres, particularly in Montreal. The other bill dealt with the signing by Canada of an international convention to fight organized crime.
Four other bills were being dealt with in the Senate, or I should say, “the other place.” There was, first, Bill C-10, concerning minimum penalties for offences involving firearms.
Next, there was Bill C-22, which dealt with the age of protection under the Criminal Code. Some of my colleagues followed that subject with a great deal of interest. The Bloc Québécois had asked for a five-year proximity clause. The Bill was before the Senate. In spite of some questions, our position was relatively favourable. The bill had been amended in committee.
Then there was Bill C-23, somewhat technical, on the language of juries and the accused.
I do not want to forget to say, Mr. Speaker, that I am sharing the time allotted to me with the likeable and charming member for Sherbrooke.
Finally, Bill C-35 on reversing the onus of proof was also passed. Some television journalists described this bill as reversing the onus of proof for parole. However, the bill was not about parole but about pre-trial bail hearings.
There were two bills remaining about which we had and still have questions and amendments to propose.
The first deals with drug-impaired driving. We are in favour of the new provision in the bill requiring individuals to take sobriety tests. Peace officers and police could stop people who are driving erratically under the influence of drugs. We were in favour of certain provisions to require people to submit to sobriety tests.
We amended the bill however because, as unlikely as it might seem, it would have been irresponsible to pass this Conservative bill without any amendments. Imagine someone driving along in his car together with a friend. They drive down the road—let us say the Trans-Canada highway, for example, to please some of my colleagues here—and it turns out that the friend, who is driving, has marijuana in his pockets or his luggage. If we had passed this bill, the car owner would have been held liable. That did not seem responsible to us or legally sound.
There was also another bill about which we had a lot of questions. Unfortunately though, I have only a minute left and so I am going to proceed to my conclusion and allow the hon. member for Sherbrooke to take over.
We are going to take our work in committee very seriously. We will not allow ourselves to be dictated to by the government which, in a fit of authoritarianism, might demand that the opposition propose no amendments to Bill C-2.
We will amend Bill C-2 if we think that is the direction in which the testimony we hear is taking us. As always, I can assure the House that the Bloc Québécois will act in a serious, responsible, reasoned way. We would also like to remind the House of the justice proposals we made last June.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
June 13th, 2007 / 7:25 p.m.
Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-23. It gives me an opportunity to go into one of my favourite topics, which is the approach the government has taken with regard to crime bills.
This bill is a good example. If the government expanded the approach it took in the bill to a number of the other crime bills, the House would become much more efficient at dealing with the required Criminal Code amendments and do so in a much shorter period of time, using our resources here, in particular the resources of the members of Parliament, more efficiently.
The bill addresses a number of problems that exist in the Criminal Code currently and have existed for quite some period of time. It is not a really long bill, but it is good number of pages and it does address a significant number of sections in the Criminal Code. It improves the Criminal Code, corrects the problems and addresses the reality that we move on. Communication techniques change and technology overall changes. We need to address those changes in our criminal justice system. The bill does that in a number of ways.
What jumps out at us, if we have been here for the government's current period of time, is it could have done the same thing in a number of other ways in a number of bills that we have dealt with in the House and in the justice committee. However, the government did it on a piecemeal basis. I use, as the classic example, the commitments that all political parties, perhaps the Bloc a little less than the others, made in the last election to deal with violent crimes involving guns.
We have just finished a second bill that dealt with the reverse onus for bail when an individual is charged with an offence, the allegation being of a violent offence with the use of a gun. A few months before that, we dealt with the use of mandatory minimums and other penalties, again for people who had now been convicted of violent crimes involving the use of a gun.
Rather than combine those two bills into one and have the witnesses come before our committee to speak to both bills, the government opted to present two separate bills. It took in effect about double the time to deal with them, when we could have halved that time if they had simply been combined. This has been repeated by the government on a number of occasions with regard to crime bills and criminal justice bills.
There is a simple answer as to why this is going on, of course, which is the Conservative government very much wants to highlight each one of these bill, each one of these issues. Rather than deal with them efficiently, it wants to play the political game of trying to get as much media coverage and attention in the country as it possibly can.
Quite frankly, that is shameful because it delays the legislative process quite significantly. It delays the use of these techniques to our police, our prosecutors and our judges, simply for the purpose of playing partisan politics with those sections of the code. Again, the government has done this over and over again.
Even this bill could have been combined with a number of others, obviously then a much larger bill. Witnesses who came before us on the issues in this bill are now coming before us on similar issues and their expertise is being in effect wasted because we are hearing from them two, three and four times.
This afternoon we have even gone the route the justice committee has gone. It is so clogged with so many bills the government has now moved to appointing special legislative committees. This afternoon the individual who was in front of us had been in front of the justice committee and both legislative committees in the last three months on four different occasions. That is repeated over and over again.
The Criminal Code does need some significant updating. Again, one of the manoeuvres by the government, to follow its ideological bent, was to hamper the potential for that to happen by getting rid of the law commission. It would have been an ideal group to have done a major revamp of the Criminal Code and some our other criminal justice bills, including our Canada Evidence Act. It could have brought that up to date and given the opportunity to the House to bring the Criminal Code into the 21st century, because in many respects it is not.
However, that opportunity has now been missed. There is no potential that I can see within government services right now for anyone to do that work. If we ever get this done, if the government ever gets its head wrapped around for the absolute need to get this done, we will pay a huge bill to buy these services, whether it be from universities, law schools or the private sector and other ways to get that total revamp of the Criminal Code, which is so badly needed.
I started with the law school initially in 1969 and we needed to bring in a whole new Criminal Code, totally revamp it. That is almost 40 years ago now. We have not done that. We have done it piecemeal. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have tried to band-aid their way through the criminal justice system.
It is not the way to run a criminal justice system. It is not a way to deal with crime in society, but this is the way it has been done up to this point. We will continue to do it this way under the Conservative government because it simply does not have the vision of what is required to deal criminal conduct in our country in an appropriate manner.
With regard to the bill itself, there are several provisions that I will highlight, which will bring the bill somewhat up to date.
About two years ago we passed a bill on child pornography, which received pretty well universal support from all sides of the House at that time, but we missed one item. That was to deal with the issue of a person being convicted of a crime involving child pornography. There was no provision, and there still is no provision, in the Criminal Code to order the seizure of equipment, which might be computers, photographic equipment and a variety of a similar nature, and forfeited to the Crown.
That is one of the amendments in the bill, a badly needed one. Our police officers and judges have made very clear to us that they require this authority. Now it will be given to them.
Similarly, with regard to offences around illegal gaming, there was a real limitation on laying charges in certain circumstances because technology got ahead of the Criminal Code. That again has been corrected. No matter what the form of communication is, electronic communication, telecommunication or whatever, if it is being used for the purposes of illicit gaming, it is now an offence. Also there are provisions for forfeiture of that equipment. More important, it makes the use of that telecommunication device illegal and people can be charged for it as a separate and new offence.
One of the other points that caused me problems when I first saw the bill and on which I was successful in getting an amendment was that we were increasing the penalty on fines from an amount of what is now $2,000 in the situation of a summary conviction offence. The bill originally proposed to move that amount to $10,000. Those fines throughout my career were $500 and then we moved them up to $1,000. About 12 to 15 years ago we increased them to $2,000.
When setting standard fines, even when they are at the maximum, we need to be sure we are not creating a set of circumstances that makes it impossible for individuals who are from the lower social economic classes of our society to pay the fine, as opposed to the alternative. It happens quite regularly where a person is given the alternative of so many days in jail, usually so many weeks or months in jail, or a fine of a maximum of $2,000, as it was then.
There is a significant number of what I would say are non-violent, property type crimes where individuals are charged and convicted of those types of crimes and then are assessed a choice penalty: either pay this amount of the fine or spend 30, 60 or 90 days in jail.
If the person has an income in the six figures, a fine of a couple of thousand dollars is not a big deal to avoid spending that length of time in custody. On the other hand, for an individual with very low income, perhaps on a fixed income, the fine is insurmountable and the individual will end up spending time in jail.
We are always looking, within the criminal justice system, to strike the proper balance. Judges certainly take into account the economic circumstances of individuals but, whereas the government was proposing here to move the maximum fine from $2,000 to $10,000, the judges need to judge the fine in light of what the maximum is.
I want to acknowledge the new justice minister who understood the proposals I and some of the other members of the committee were making and accepted the fact that when we take into account inflation over this period of time, jumping it from $2,000 to $10,000 was unreasonable. We ended up compromising on a figure of a maximum fine that can be assessed in those circumstances of $5,000. That amendment was moved at committee, accepted by all the parties and is now in the bill at third reading.
The other concern I had with the bill involved official language rights across the country. A number of amendments are in the bill but there are also some gaps. Some of the amendments that went through were, I believe, moved primarily by the Bloc Québécois but they were supported by the opposition parties in one case and in another by all of us supporting them.
A number of francophone lawyers associations from across the country, which appeared before our committee, told us about one of the major problems they ran into. Although we are providing a significant amount of service, translating documents at the time of the trial and onward, there are a number of documents that people are served with, and we are not talking a lot of pages, that are only written in the official language that is dominant in that area of the country and English, generally, is dominant in eight of the provinces. In New Brunswick, which is fluently bilingual, it is not a problem because most documents there are given in both languages or are at least available in both languages, and then there are areas in Quebec where the documents are only available in French.
There was some significant discussion in committee. We heard from the government that it would be very expensive to do this. After a more thorough analysis, it became obvious that it would be a relatively minor additional cost, but it would allow the individual to have full access to the criminal justice system from the start. From the time a person is charged, the initial document with which the person is served at that point and other documents that the person may be given during that period of time, some of which the person must sign, all of those could be relatively easily translated without a great deal of expense. That amendment went through.
One of the problems that we ultimately decided not to deal with but one I want to note was the concern over the availability of trials and granting judges authority to move trials from one region of a province to another. Initially we heard from some of the francophone lawyers associations that this amendment would limit the availability of trials if it went through.
Again, after some very lengthy involvement of the national francophone lawyers association and further discussion with the Government of Canada, the justice department and some of the provinces, it was determined that it might have a minor impact on the availability of trials in French. It is not a problem in New Brunswick or with trials in English in Quebec, but it may have a minor effect in some of the other provinces.
What was determined was that we would pass the bill as proposed by the government and monitor it over the next three to five years to see if it is having an impact, with an understanding by the government that if the number of trials in the other official language began to be impeded by this provision that it would be looked at again at that time. Hopefully a consensus would build that we revert to the situation where judges would not be able that easily to transfer trials from one region to another.
It can be appreciated that an accused party when faced with a transfer of a trial is looking at extra expenses. The person's lawyer will need to travel, the witnesses will need to travel and the person may end up spending time in hotels and having to buy restaurant food while the trial is going on in another region. That certainly could be and may, in some cases, be an impediment to the trials in the other official language.
As I said, the justice department through the justice minister has committed to monitoring the situation. If it becomes a problem we hopefully will deal with it and deal with it rapidly.
The end result of the process was a healthy one from a democracy standpoint. I think the justice committee got a full appreciation of the amendments we were making.
There are a number of other technical amendments in here that facilitate the transfer of criminal justice documents between provinces. That has been a problem in the past. These amendments would facilitate that and make it easier and increase the use and the transfer of these documents by fax as opposed to hard copies that had to be delivered.
As I said earlier in my address, this would bring these sections of the Criminal Code into the 21st century recognizing the advances we have made technologically and incorporating a number of those into the amendments and now into the ode once the bill clears this House.
Overall, it is the way we should be amending. Even better would be an overall complete review of the Criminal Code and bringing it up to date. I have one more point to make that highlights this. One of the members of the Conservative Party moved a private member's bill and, in the course of the debate, he was quite eloquent in pointing out some of the serious inconsistencies we have in the Criminal Code on the sentencing side, where there is, by all objective standards, a very serious crime with a relatively minor penalty. Side by side with it, maybe one section next in the Criminal Code, there is a less severe crime, again by any objective standards, but with a penalty that is even more severe.
We have a number of those. It is another example of this need to completely revamp the Criminal Code, bring it up to date and do away with a lot of the inconsistencies.
The NDP is supporting this bill as amended and we would like to see it in place as rapidly as possible.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
June 13th, 2007 / 7:25 p.m.
Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague's explanation of the position the Bloc has taken on Bill C-23. I agree with her that it is a very technical bill, so I am certainly not going to get into the specifics of the numerous recommendations that have been brought forward.
I was interested in the discussion on treatment programs because in another life I worked with people coming out of jail who were living on the street. My wife and I lived with them in the city. We dealt with the issue of recidivism all the time. I have to say that many of the criminals we dealt with were not particularly malignant people but they repeated dumb crimes time and time again.
We found they fell into a number of classic categories. There was the issue of mental illness, people who were basically unstable, and there was a lack of treatment programs for people who needed treatment for various addictions. An issue that we found much more prevalent was the lack of community support. Many who were basically free falling through life ended up repeating criminal acts because they knew it. There were even people who ended up back in jail because when they got out onto the streets they did not know any community, home or family.
What we tried to do in our community was provide some kind of support structure. Time and time again there was the issue of the need for treatment. Once people received treatment, especially for addictions, the ability for them to become participating citizens suddenly became a reality in a way that it could not matter how many times they returned to jail.
I would like to ask my hon. colleague what her thoughts are. If we are going to be dealing with people coming through the criminal justice system, we have to ensure that we deal with the need for community support in order to deal with them and their treatment problems, so that we can stop recidivism and turn them into citizens in our society.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
June 13th, 2007 / 7:15 p.m.
Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-23 at third reading. The bill aims to amend the Criminal Code in a number of ways.
Briefly, the bill is essentially a complete update of many aspects of the Criminal Code. The goal of the amendments proposed in Bill C-23 is to contribute to the smooth functioning of the criminal justice system, which will facilitate the day to day functions of those who work within the system. The amendments contained in the bill fall mainly into three categories: criminal procedure, language of the accused and sentencing.
Several criminal procedure amendments serve to clarify the application and purpose of certain provisions, as well as to improve procedural efficiencies by permitting the use of modern technology and rationalizing existing provisions. Here is one of many examples. The bill proposes amendments that would refine the jury selection process to better protect the impartiality of prospective jury members, as well as sworn jurors.
Concerning the language rights of the accused, the amendments in Bill C-23 would resolve many problems that arise from a poor understanding of sections 530 and 530.1 of the Criminal Code by the accused, members of the bar, the prosecution and judges. I would remind the House that those sections guarantee the right of all accused persons to have their preliminary inquiry and trial before a court that speaks the official language of the accused and to have a crown prosecutor who speaks the language of the accused. Accordingly, the amendments proposed in the bill also follow up on court decisions requiring that the charging document must be translated into the language of the accused upon request.
Lastly, concerning sentencing, the technical amendments proposed in Bill C-23 aim to clarify the intent of certain sentencing provisions and improve efficiencies in the application of certain court sentencing processes. For instance, one amendment would provide that an impaired driving offender subject to a driving prohibition order would only be permitted to drive if he or she were registered in an alcohol ignition interlock device program and in compliance with the conditions of the program. This amendment is intended to make it clear that the offender must not only be enrolled in the program, but must also comply with all the terms of the program during the driving prohibition period.
In committee, my colleague for Hochelaga and I scrutinized this bill. As I was saying, Bill C-23 is fairly technical and does not lend itself to partisanship. In general, the amendments suggested resulted from meetings and consultations with professionals from the departments. Crown attorneys consulted police and defence attorneys, among others. In addition, federal, provincial and territorial officials met to discuss this matter and then made recommendations to their immediate superiors.
After obtaining some clarifications from the government and witnesses, the amendments to the bill were often unanimously approved by members of the committee. Furthermore, the amendments made by committee members were minor and very specific to the language of the accused.
I want to say that Bill C-23 is a good bill. The amendments help the judges in their work by providing more discretion. These measures will provide judges with better tools to do their work properly, namely to determine the most appropriate sentence that, at the same time, will best serve the objectives of deterrence, reparation and rehabilitation. For example, Bill C-23 provides the power to delay sentencing so that an offender can participate in a treatment program approved by the province. In other words, the accused may finish his rehab program or an appropriate treatment program prior to sentencing.
Up to this point, my colleagues and I have all too often witnessed the denial by this minority government of the importance of rehabilitation. This is deplorable because rehabilitation is key to reducing crime in general. Furthermore, by removing judges' prerogatives to order sentences in the community would cause Quebec and the other provinces to assume the additional financial burden of having to imprison more people, while that money could be better spent on rehabilitation and prevention. Therefore, Bill C-23 is a step in the right direction.
I will add that the Criminal Code should be revised regularly so that people can have confidence in the justice system because they know that it is in step with new realities and that when mistakes are made, they are corrected without delay.
I remain convinced that my colleagues in my party and in the House share my point of view about justice and the administration of justice.
Bill C-23 is also interesting because it will harmonize the rules of service. According to the principles of natural justice, it is unthinkable that an accused person might be brought before the courts without knowing exactly why the law is concerned about him. When one is brought before the courts, one must not only have a clear idea of the charge, but one must also have complete access to the evidence.
In addition, Bill C-23 adds a number of aspects that I find interesting, including the use of telecommunications to forward warrants to be executed in a different jurisdiction than the one where the search took place and changes to the process with respect to the challenge of jurors in order to help preserve their impartiality. There is also the power to order an offender in custody not to communicate with identified persons and the creation of an offence for failing to comply with the order, which increases protection for victims.
These are good procedural advances, which will only accelerate the legal process. For many of these provisions, it sometimes takes many years before the effects are felt. From time to time, it is necessary to adopt a legislative measure like this bill in order to make these technical amendments. Criminal law is not unchanging; it is constantly evolving.
That is why we agree that Bill C-23 makes sense, since it has the virtue of clarifying the provisions of the Criminal Code and simplifying certain legal procedures. That is why the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-23 and will support it at third reading, in order for it to get to the Senate.
I will close by saying that Bill C-23 is not something we are used to seeing from this minority government in matters of justice. My colleagues know full well that Conservative bills on justice often have an American brand of conservative ideology, in other words, policing instead of prevention. Apparently Bill C-23 came from the last Parliament. It is a bill that the government has taken over from the previous government and that was supported by the Bloc Québécois during the previous Parliament.
I would add that my party defends the Quebec vision of justice based on fairness and balance between the offence committed and the punishment. The only way of achieving that is to entrust these duties to magistrates, and to independent persons. For every category of crime the punishment has to fit and be fair. These are the values we defend here.
Quebec understands that, which is one of the reasons it sent a majority of Bloc members to the House of Commons, in other words, to defend the values of the nation of Quebec. We will be sure to affirm these Quebec values very soon during the national holiday on June 24; we will honour it by celebrating proudly.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
June 13th, 2007 / 7:05 p.m.
Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-23. I welcome many of these reforms mentioned in the text, but more importantly, I am pleased to stand behind any carefully planned legislation designed to modernize the criminal justice system and make it more efficient and effective.
The bill was tabled by the former justice minister on June 22, 2006. Despite the two previous attempts my colleagues and I made to speed the legislation along, first in October 2006 and then in March 2007, three months ago, here we are almost a year later debating a bill that should have been disposed of a long time ago.
What has held it up? If it were not for the Conservatives' consistent delaying tactics with respect to their own justice legislation, the bill would be through the House by now.
Let me briefly touch on some of the amendments to the Criminal Code that are proposed in Bill C-23. I think most of my colleagues will see why we should not delay this process, because the bill has strong reforms for criminal procedures and sentencing.
The amendments relating to criminal procedure include using any means of telecommunication to put forward warrants in a jurisdiction. Given the rapid rise of various forms of telecommunications with respect to emails and other means, this is clearly an overdue change. It finally brings our justice system more in line with new technology and it will make the warrant system much faster.
Other amendments related to criminal procedures include a change to the process with respect to the challenge of a juror. It will further allow for the preservation of impartiality of a jury by the judge.
They include a summary conviction trial with respect to co-accused that can proceed where one of the co-accused does not appear.
They include the reclassification of the offence of possession of break and enter instruments. Should the bill pass, this would become a dual procedure offence. The Crown can determine whether this offence should be prosecuted by way of indictment or by the faster procedure of summary conviction.
These are changes that we on this side of the House support.
With respect to the sentencing provisions, there are several steps that are being taken in the right direction. The most important is the power to order an offender not to communicate with identified persons while in custody, along with the creation of an offence for failing to comply with the order.
This is a step that I believe will have a very positive effect with respect to protecting victims. We can imagine those who have been victims of crime and those families who have lost loved ones. They actually still can be contacted by those who were convicted, with no real repercussions for those doing the contacting. One can imagine the mental anguish and fear this could cause.
The bill represents a strong reform with a clear message. A person who violates this order could be sentenced to two years for breaching this order in the case of an indictable offence, 18 months in the case of a summary offence, or in some cases there could be a fine. This will be particularly helpful in the case of women who have been the victims of violence.
In my own riding of Newton--North Delta there have been several high profile cases of violence against women. Those who have been lucky enough to survive, and sadly some have not, must be protected from any form of communication from an offender. These people are in prison and that sentence must include a non-communication order to protect those victims who have survived and their families.
Other important amendments with respect to sentencing include changes for those who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs and are responsible for the injury or death of innocent Canadians. Living in a community like mine, where there is strong grassroot support for real action on drunk driving, this is a great step forward.
I believe that these changes will be well received and they are yet another example of what in fact the Conservative government has been delaying. Criminals are being sentenced every day, and every day we delay the passage of this legislation is another day that victims are not being protected by the government.
There is an amendment that will allow, if convicted, the forfeit of any equipment used in an offence of luring a child by means of a computer. I can only say that it is about time the Criminal Code caught up with modern technology. No one who is convicted of using a computer to lure a child should be allowed to keep the equipment they used. In my personal view, they should not be allowed to even use a computer after having used one for that purpose.
I was proud to stand in favour of Bill C-22, another bill that was delayed by the Conservative government for partisan electoral reasons. It also focused on the importance of protecting our children. I am the father of three young children and I consistently speak in favour of and actively support any legislation that will protect their well-being.
I will also consistently speak out against a Conservative government that, while speaking in favour of protecting Canadians, actively seeks to delay important reforms for partisan electoral gains. Why? I believe the government delays bills like Bill C-23 so that the justice committee would not have to comprehensively review other justice bills tabled by the Conservative Party that members on this side of the House had concerns with.
Instead, the Conservative government, in a cynical attempt to overload a parliamentary committee with one-off bills, a tactic that is probably in some Conservative committee guide somewhere, does this in order to justify the untruth that the opposition is somehow trying to delay good justice legislation.
In mid-March, the Liberal opposition once again tried to move along Bill C-23, among other legislation, through all stages of consideration by the House. These bills would help police find criminals, protect children under 16, and put the onus on the accused for bail hearings of those who have been convicted of a firearms offence. What has happened? Once again the government has delayed its own justice legislation, including this one.
I believe that right thinking Conservative members must be outraged at these tactics by their leadership after many of my Conservative colleagues pushed for many of these changes for so long. I just hope that some of them begin to speak up and help get their own legislation through the House.
It would make me, as a legislator, feel better if the Conservative Party started tabling justice legislation for victims' rights and community safety.
Canadians deserve a government with the well-being of Canadians first and foremost on their mind instead of playing politics with the Criminal Code.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
June 13th, 2007 / 6:55 p.m.
Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.
I am pleased to rise in this House today to speak about Bill C-23, whose purpose is to make a number of amendments to the Criminal Code. This omnibus bill has to do specifically with criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other matters.
Bill C-23 is an omnibus bill, or what we like to call a cleanup bill, since its objective is to ensure the Criminal Code of Canada is keeping up with today's society in order to maximize its efficiency and make its application as simple as possible. Even though the Criminal Code is an old and warped document, it must be what our criminal justice system relies on.
I will give a bit of background. The first reading of this bill was on June 22, 2006. The debates at second reading were in October and second reading was in October. It was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and there the bill had five hearings in the month of May. Four days after the last hearing, the committee report was tabled.
As members can see, the bill moved along with some speed once the standing committee had a chance to deal with it, but there are many justice bills, items and reports before that committee which I sit on with the parliamentary secretary. We have been quite busy.
However, I must say by way of background that it is quite unfair of the government House leader to say in the House that Bill C-23, this bill, a Criminal Code amendment, was held up “for 214 days at committee by the opposition parties”. This is a cleanup bill that we had repeatedly offered to fast track, along with a number of other bills, in order to ensure that non-contentious criminal justice bills would speed through Parliament.
Here we are in the dying hours and days of this session and we still do not have this non-contentious cleanup bill passed. It can be seen that the committee did its work in the month of May and was in no way delaying the bill. I think it is unfortunate that the government House leader stooped to such a level in falsely accusing the parties and the members of that committee of being dilatory.
Let us see what Bill C-23 is all about. The bill touches on a number of issues, including expanding the availability of non-communication orders to provide better protection to victims and other selected individuals from unwanted communications from offenders in custody.
The bill increases the maximum fine for summary conviction offences. These have not been updated in 20 years. The maximum fine under a summary conviction offence is $2,000. It will move to $10,000, which we can see in the most heinous of crimes under the summary conviction category might very well be appropriate.
Bill C-23 facilitates the efficiency of the execution of out of province search warrants.
It guarantees the right of the accused to appear before a judge and jury that will speak the official language of the accused. I cannot say how important this is in our bilingual province of New Brunswick and in the bilingual community of Greater Moncton that I represent.
I must say that this bill is a perfect example of how important committee work actually is. We have read a lot about how committees are dysfunctional or have become so because of the environment around here, but this bill was swiftly dealt with by a committee that acted very efficiently and very well. There was a camaraderie on the committee with respect to non-contentious bills, and a great deal of respect. The chairman of that committee, from Alberta, deserves great credit.
However, Bill C-23 is not bedtime reading. It is fairly complex and it is all about the details. A lot of time was spent in the committee going through the nuts and bolts of this bill.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights also spent the four sessions in listening to various experts, particularly with respect to language rights, on how this bill will indeed make criminal justice move more swiftly. Committee members from all four parties presented proposed amendments to make this an even better bill.
In short, Bill C-23 shows that when the government decides to work toward good policies, and put aside politics, this Parliament can work very well to achieve the greater good of a fairer and safer Canada for all law-abiding citizens.
As we get closer to the end of this legislative session, I do want to thank my fellow members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their amazing work and for the great deal of work done at the committee and here in the House of Commons.
In particular, I have a good working relationship with the parliamentary secretary whose riding abuts mine. I have great respect for the way he has dealt with many of the justice issues before us. We have been very busy these past few months. Many bills were studied and many witnesses were heard from.
I spoke earlier about the committee members' commitments and I can think of one example that must be highlighted. The member for Yukon proposed five amendments, making this a better bill. The member for Yukon, not a particularly francophone-rich area, stood up for the rights of those who deserve to have trials in their own language.
Regarding one of his amendments in his own words from the transcript of the committee, simply put as only the member for Yukon can do it with his experience and his common sense, he said as follows:
The first one, this amendment, only adds the word “may”, and that's the only difference.
That is the guts of his amendment. He continued:
What the clause basically said before was that if there are witnesses who have different languages, then they have to have a bilingual trial. But a bilingual trial may not be the fairest in all cases; in fact, it may not be possible. You may not have bilingual prosecutors and judges, or it may prejudice one of the witnesses....
It may prejudice one of the witnesses or the accused to have a trial mandated in a language, in one or the other of the official languages. It is much better to put the permissive “may” in the amendments. That is what we are doing in this last bit.
I cannot underscore how important language rights are as the kernel of the bill. The essence of this bill is about the language rights of the accused in a trial process.
Bill C-23 reinforces the right of accused persons to be tried in the official language of their choice, and more particularly, the right to a bilingual trial in cases where co-accused do not speak the same official language. This important measure will ensure that justice can be served to all Canadians in both official languages. Once again, this will ensure a fair and equitable justice system. It is also important to emphasize that we have a fair and equitable justice system. This bill will improve our existing system.
That being said, I am a little skeptical about the guarantees provided in the bill concerning the true linguistic ability of the parties involved. It is easy to use this bill and fancy speeches to claim that we are bilingual. We must have bilingual trials. We must protect the rights of those who need bilingual trials. It is easy to say, but the reality of doing it might not be so easy. The judge and jury must fully understand the accused and ensure that his or her rights are respected. That is why the amendments to Bill C-23 are necessary.
How can we ensure that the level of language comprehension is adequate and that people are truly bilingual? It is not easy to assess the ability of prosecutors, lawyers and the accused. Add in a judge and jury, and it becomes very difficult to be sure that language rights will be respected.
In short, this bill is all about making the justice system work better. I would like to commend all the parties who worked very hard in making sure this cleanup bill cleaned up a system that was in fact working very well.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
June 13th, 2007 / 6:40 p.m.
Fundy Royal New Brunswick
Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments).
Members in the justice committee have had a chance to study Bill C-23 and are now well aware that this bill is not about major substantive reforms. Bill C-23 proposes technical amendments to update, improve and modernize the law by enhancing the efficiency of criminal procedures, strengthening sentencing measures and clarifying court related language rights provisions.
I am pleased to see that most of the Bill C-23 amendments as introduced received support by committee members during clause by clause, which reflects a shared understanding of the importance of its reforms. I am pleased also with the collaborative work demonstrated by all members of the committee and I am sure that the members would agree.
This government has introduced several legislative initiatives in the House that aim at tackling crime which remains one of this government's key priorities. Ensuring that the law is up to date and efficient is an important component of this priority. The amendments, as introduced, have been developed in collaboration with justice system partners that were influential in helping us identify areas of the Criminal Code that were in need of change.
Bill C-23 touches on several areas of the Criminal Code. Most of the amendments are technical in nature and fall within three main categories, namely: criminal procedure, language of the accused and sentencing. I will address each of those in turn.
Most of the criminal procedure amendments are technical in nature and seek to improve procedural efficiencies and rectify certain shortcomings in criminal proceedings. These technical changes include amendments to: expedite the execution of out of province search warrants by allowing the use of current technologies; harmonize and consolidate provisions dealing with proof of service of documents; identify the proper appeal route for judicial orders to return seized property; and finally, to improve the process with respect to the challenge of jurors to assist in preserving the jury's impartiality.
Other Criminal Code procedure amendments of a more substantive nature include: the reclassification of the offence of possessing break-in instruments, which is currently a straight indictable offence, to a dual procedure offence to allow the prosecution to either elect to proceed by way of indictment or by way of summary conviction; the creation of an offence for the breach of a non-communication order imposed on an accused who is remanded to pre-trial custody; and, a new election right for the accused as to his or her mode of trial where a preferred indictment has been filed against him or her or where the Supreme Court of Canada orders a new trial.
On the issue of language of the accused, allow me to now mention not all but some of the language provisions addressed in the bill.
These proposals are the result of numerous consultations once again, not only with the provinces and territories but also with the Commissioner of Official Languages, the association of francophone jurists and its national federation. In fact, both the Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression français de common law and the Commissioner of Official Languages appeared as witnesses before the committee. They were generally satisfied with the proposals found in the bill.
They did, however, express concerns with respect to some of the amendments being proposed and these concerns were reflected in the amendments proposed by the opposition parties at clause by clause consideration of the bill.
The government supported some of these amendments that were consistent with the scope and the principle of the bill. Sections 530 and 530.1 of the Criminal Code have been in force across the country since January 1, 1990, and they grant all the accused the right to trial in the official language of his or her choice.
Numerous studies and reports have confirmed that barriers continue to stand in the way of the exercise of these rights. Moreover, court decisions have highlighted a number of interpretation problems. The amendments proposed by Bill C-23 would resolve these problems and thus contribute to the evolution of language rights in the criminal law context.
One important amendment would heed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada by requiring the court to inform all accused persons of their right to be tried in their official language whether they are represented by counsel or not.
The Commissioner of Official Languages, in a 1995 study entitled “The Equitable Use of English and French before the Courts in Canada”, had also recommended that all accused persons be better informed of their right to a trial in the official language of their choice.
Another amendment would require the charging document to be translated in the language of the accused upon request. This is a logical complement to accused persons exercising their language rights. By the same token, to satisfy the need for certainty and precision in criminal proceedings where the charging document has been translated, a further amendment would make clear that where there is an inconsistency between the original version of the charging document and the translated version, the original document ought to prevail.
Some of the other proposals found in Bill C-23 relate to bilingual trials and would provide the presiding judge with the power to issue appropriate orders to ensure that bilingual trials run smoothly and efficiently.
For example, Bill C-23 would require that, if the circumstances warrant, a joint trial in both official languages should be ordered in the case of co-accused who do not share the same official language. Such an amendment not only brings greater clarify 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.
The language of trial amendments propose workable and balanced solutions to problems that have been identified and promise to bring greater efficiency to minority language trials. They will also ensure better publicity of the language rights provision in the Criminal Code.
Finally, dealing with sentencing, Bill C-23 proposes both technical and substantive amendments which are meant to streamline processes, clarify the intent of certain provisions and update the law in this area.
Let me remind hon. members of some of the amendments that are of a more substantive nature. One amendment would raise the maximum fine that can be imposed upon conviction of a summary conviction offence. The current $2,000 amount has remained unchanged over the last 20 years. As introduced, the amendment raised the maximum fine amount to $10,000.
During clause by clause, the government supported an opposition amendment to reduce the proposed maximum fine to $5,000, which is still a tremendous update over the $2,000 amount that had been in place over the last 20 years and better reflects changes over that time.
The government believes that this amount would still meet the policy objective of updating the law in this area and would still provide the Crown with more flexibility to proceed by way of summary conviction procedure.
Another substantive amendment to the sentencing provisions of Bill C-23 provides the Crown with the ability to seek forfeiture of computers and other related property used in the commission of the offence with respect to Internet luring offences. This is indeed a substantive change that I think all members in the House can support, dealing with the forfeiture of the property of individuals who are involved in what is a very heinous crime.
As well, Bill C-23 would provide sentencing courts with the power to order an offender not to communicate directly or indirectly with victims, witnesses and other identified persons during their period of incarceration. A corresponding offence for breeching such an order is also proposed.
These amendments would provide the courts with an additional tool to protect victims of crime from unwanted communications. As this type of order is currently being imposed by courts at various stages of the criminal process, such as when an accused is remanded to pretrial custody or released on bail, this amendment would fill a gap with respect to such orders when an offender is serving a term of imprisonment.
Another important amendment includes the power of a sentencing court to refer an offender in appropriate circumstances to a provincially or territorially approved treatment program under the supervision of the court before sentence is imposed.
By delaying the imposition of the sentencing to allow an offender to have early access to treatment programs, the offender is given a strong incentive for behavioural change and successful rehabilitation.
I will now provide a few examples of the technical amendments. One of them includes a change that would provide a court of appeal with the power to suspend a conditional sentence order until an appeal from sentence or conviction is determined.
A series of other amendments would serve to clarify the application of impaired driving penalties. For instance, in response to uncertainty in judicial decisions with respect to impaired driving penalties, one important amendment would clarify that the minimum penalties that apply for a first, second and third impaired driving offence, such as operation of a motor vehicle while impaired and refusal to provide a breath sample, do apply to the more serious situations of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.
By the same token, this legislation would also make it clear that repeat impaired driving offenders, whose new offence causes bodily harm or death, will receive a mandatory period of incarceration and will therefore not be eligible for a conditional sentence order.
Another impaired driving amendment would clarify that an offender is only permitted to drive while being the subject of a driving prohibition order if the offender is not only registered in an alcohol ignition interlock device program, but also complies with the conditions of that program.
We as a government are proud of the work accomplished today with Bill C-23 and we hope the bill will be passed expeditiously. I would like to remind hon. members that the provinces, territories and other justice system stakeholders are keen to see this bill enacted, as it would improve the effectiveness of and access to the criminal justice system.
I, therefore, urge all members to join me in ensuring quick passage of Bill C-23 into law.
The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.
Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings
June 11th, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.
Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK
Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that the government, in proposing this motion today, has chosen once again to maintain its habitual lack of consultation and reluctance to attempt a collaborative approach to organizing the business of the House.
On more than one occasion, as I think the Chair will remember, I asked directly whether the government intended to make use of Standing Order 27. As other House leaders can confirm, the reply was, “probably not”. I do not think we would be off base in the opposition in expecting that if that were no longer the case, if the government had in fact changed its mind, that it would have decently given us a heads-up that it was going to propose this motion today, at least given us that notice some time earlier than around one o'clock this afternoon.
Frankly, as we saw the government House leader making his travels across the floor of the House, I will not say where he went, the heckling and yelling as he departed the chamber obviously indicates the kind of demeanour of which we have to deal.
I do not see what there is on the order paper at present that this motion will get through the House any more quickly than would have otherwise been the case. I presume, judging by the government House leader's remarks, that the government is principally concerned with Bill C-52, the budget bill.
It has represented to the House and to the public that the government is now extremely concerned the bill will not receive royal assent in time for certain expenditures to be booked in the appropriate fiscal year. Let us be clear. The fiscal year the Conservatives are talking about is 2006-07, and that is the point.
The issue is retroactive fiscal bookings for the last fiscal year, not the future fiscal year, as members would have gathered from the remarks of the government House leader. If there is concern about the lateness of the date, the government really has only itself to blame.
Usually federal budgets are delivered in or about the third week of February, which then permits the introduction of a budget implementation bill by the end of that month. If things are properly managed, this would permit the bill to be in committee before the end of March and to be passed at all stages by the end of May or, at the very latest, the beginning of June.
This year the government chose, for its own partisan reasons, to delay the budget until the third week of March. We did not even see it until then. Then it unilaterally interrupted the budget debate. Then having finished that, belatedly, it interrupted, again, the second reading debate on the budget implementation Bill C-52. That interruption lasted for three full weeks, getting the bill to committee only in the middle of May.
As a consequence, the government then bulldozed the bill through the committee, breaking procedural agreements, denying many interested and informed citizens and groups the right to testify on the bill. Let it be clearly understood that any procedural issue on Bill C-52 is a direct result of government breaking the agreement on the process, which had been fully settled by members of the committee.
Nevertheless, the bill is now only in its third day of debate at third reading and there is every indication that the third reading and final stage would come to an end in debate in the House by the end of business tomorrow at the latest.
It is important to underscore what these dates are with respect to the budget. Remember that the House resumed in the final week of January. The budget was not presented to the House until March 19, fully eight weeks into the parliamentary sitting. That was followed by a ways and means motion and the introduction of the budget bill, but that was delayed because the government interrupted its own budget debate on the financial principles of the government.
Its budget was late, the budget debate was unilaterally delayed by itself and then it finally got around to introducing the budget bill on March 29, which was debated at second reading for the first time on March 30. It was then debated in a haphazard, sporadic fashion, brought forward to the floor by the government, until April 23, and then it was hoisted altogether. The House did not see it again until May 14, full three weeks later.
Finally, it went to the committee, not as a result of any filibuster by the opposition or any party in the opposition. The delay was entirely the procedural mismanagement of the government. It was there for less than two weeks and one of those weeks was a break week when Parliament was not even sitting.
It finally passed through the committee, rather expeditiously, thanks to the cooperation of the opposition, and it was brought back to be debated at report stage on June 4. For how long? One day, that is all the report stage took. Now it is at third reading where there have been three days of debate, and probably a conclusion could have been arrived at very easily by the end of the day tomorrow.
This is why I made the point at the beginning of my remarks that there really is nothing on this order paper that could not be dealt with in the ordinary course of business without the measure the government House leader has introduced. Obviously it is a tactic to blame the opposition for the delays that lie entirely within the control of the government.
What is it then? If it is not Bill C-52, what is it that causes the government to move the motion today? Despite frequent requests for the government to outline its realistic legislative priorities before the summer, all we have heard repeatedly from the government House leader and from others on the government's side is a flow of partisan rhetoric. Legislation has in fact been moving along through the House and through committees, despite the government's erratic management of its agenda.
In fact, the most controversial bill on the order paper, and this is what gives me perhaps a little hope here, is probably Bill C-30, the clean air act, as it has been revised by members of Parliament. Significantly, only the government has been stalling it up to now. However, now we will have some extra time, some extra hours of sitting every day beginning on Wednesday.
Can we then conclude that the extra time the government is seeking is to facilitate the work of the House in consideration of Bill C-30? I certainly hope so. It is in this fervent hope that I indicate to the House that my party, the official Liberal opposition, will support the minister's motion for the extension of hours.
In the time available, in addition to Bill C-52, which will probably be done tomorrow, and in addition to Bill C-30, which I hope the government has the courage to recall and put before the House once again, the official opposition also looks forward to making progress on Bill C-11, lowering freight rates for farmers, on Bill C-14, dealing with foreign adoptions, on Bill C-23, dealing with criminal procedure, on Bill C-29, dealing with Air Canada and the use of official languages, on Bill C-35, dealing with bail reform, on Bill C-47, dealing with the Olympic, on Bill S-6 and Bill C-51, dealing with land claims and on Bill C-40, the private member's legislation that would provide free postage for mail from Canada to our troops in Afghanistan.
Then there is an item that was referred to in question period today. This is the bill we are anxiously awaiting to see, the one dealing with wage earner protection. I hope the government will follow through on the commitment given in question period, that it will table the bill in amended form so it can be passed at all stages and brought into law before Parliament adjourns for the summer recess.
Let me mention one other matter, which is outstanding and which should be dealt with by the House, or at least dealt with by the government when the House is sitting. This is the examination undertaken a few weeks ago by Mr. Brown in connection with the matters that have been of great concern to Canadians in respect of the RCMP pension fund.
As we understand it, there is a report due from Mr. Brown on June 15. That was the original undertaking given by the Minister of Public Safety. It would be very important for us to know that the examination is on time, that we will hear from Mr. Brown on time, and that the Minister of Public Safety will take the step that he promised to take and make that report public immediately.
Perhaps the government might also consider, in whatever time that remains before the summer recess, reforming its approach to the mood in the House. The mood could be improved if the government would refrain from certain of its more hostile practices. For example: no more gratuitous attack ads, no more broken agreements on how witnesses will be heard, no more manuals about dirty tricks for disrupting parliamentary business, and no more devious games to misuse Standing Orders of the House. A little good old fashioned good faith could change the mood for the better.
Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings
June 11th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.
Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, I move:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 27(1), commencing on Wednesday June 13, 2007, and concluding on June 21, 2007, the House shall continue to sit until 10 p.m.
He said: Mr. Speaker, this is a motion that can be made one day a year, not on Christmas Day or Ground Hog Day, but this day, the 10th sitting day before June 23. It is a motion that can be made to allow the House to sit late into the evening.
I know that many members, when they look at that portion of the calendar and they see possible extension of sitting hours, they think that means we get to leave early for summer vacation, but that is not what it means. What it means is that under the Standing Orders of the House we can potentially sit and work late to get as much of the people's business done as possible because there are very important priorities for Canadians.
I will bear my soul here and say that it was not always my intention to move this motion. It was my hope that it would not be necessary. I was hoping that we would be making good progress.
For example, Bill C-52 in particular, the budget implementation bill was a bill which we believed we had an understanding with the other parties; in fact it had been shaken on by the member for St. Catharines, the member of the Liberal Party for Scarborough and others that it would be over to the Senate by June 6. Somewhere along the way the Liberal Party sought to treat it a little bit differently and as a result we are still debating it here almost a week later than the date we thought it would be over at the Senate. As a result of course we have lost considerable time to deal with other priorities for Canadians.
I want to talk about what those other priorities for Canadians might be, but first I want to focus on that number one priority which is Bill C-52, the budget implementation bill. As we have heard from many people in the House today, if that bill does not pass by the time the House rises for the summer, if that bill has not been dealt with, there are a number of financial priorities on issues that are very important to Canadians that will be lost, because it is a bill that reaches back to the previous fiscal year to spend funds. Those funds have to be allocated. The bill has to be passed and receive royal assent in order for those funds to be available in that fashion. If not, they are lost.
Some of those examples are ones which we have heard about today. The one that is at the top of my personal list is the $620 million in the budget for the patient wait times guarantee trust. This is money that is allocated to assist provinces in addressing what is one of our number one priorities—actually one of our top five priorities; I should put it that way—from the last election. That priority is to achieve a patient wait times guarantee, to help people get the kind of health care they need on a basis that is reasonable, that is practical, that is clinically sound.
For too long we saw patient wait times under the previous government actually double in length. We have this much vaunted Canadian health care system that we all purport to believe in, but if we really believe in it, we have to see that it works. An important part of it working is that Canadians should receive the health care that they need on a timely basis. That is what the $612 million is specifically aimed at.
The provinces are very anxious to receive these funds. It means a great deal for a lot of provinces. In my own province of Ontario that means $200 million plus of real money that Ontario needs for its health care system. The same thing, together with other elements, will mean for the province of Nova Scotia for health care $639 million including the transfer there. There is similar money throughout the country.
We are talking of significant funds. There are other elements in the budget. Much of that transfer will not be lost, as I said, because it is in the main budget funds, but the patient wait times guarantee money, that $612 million, is money that will be lost if we do not deal with that on a timely basis.
Another one that is very important is the $1.5 billion for the clean air and climate change trust. That is to help the provinces implement their plans to reduce greenhouse gases. It is very important.
On January 4 of this year, the Prime Minister addressed Canadians and identified what our priorities would be in government this year. One of those major priorities was to take real action on the environment. We have just seen that at the G-8 summit. In the summit declaration Canada's approach is an approach that is drastically different than it was for 13 years under the previous government when greenhouse gas emissions rose dramatically regardless of the commitments it took on. Now we have a national plan that results in real reductions, an actual plan that does that in both the short and medium term but also very importantly in the long term.
It is that approach by the Canadian government that was hailed as an example not just by world leaders, by other G-8 leaders, but by journalists from around the world, by special interest groups. The World Wildlife Fund, for example, issued a statement heralding Canada's approach as a model. The reason it is held out as a model and an example is it is an approach that can be used regardless of how lousy one's track record may be. This is important for a lot of the major emitters that had not been part of the arrangements up until now or did not have obligations under Kyoto to implement, major emitters like China, India, Brazil and the United States, to get them to the table and realize that if we are going to take on the challenges of addressing greenhouse gas emissions and turning around the risk of climate change and what it can potentially do to our world, we are going to have to take action in the long term. That is the approach of Canada that is being held as a model.
An important critical component of that approach is to engage and involve the provinces and ensure that they have in their hands the resources they need to be able to deliver. A big part of that is that $1.5 billion of ecotrust money, the clean air and climate change trust money. I underline that if we do not get Bill C-52 passed in time, that money will be lost.
This is where the delay and obstruction that the Liberal Party in particular has been conducting has been very harmful to the interests of Canadians who care about the environment, and in fact even those who do not care about the environment, because even if people do not care about it, it does affect them. It is important for all Canadians that they have that healthy environment.
Another example of the money that could be lost if Bill C-52 is not approved, if the Liberal obstruction is successful, is the $400 million for the Canada Health Infoway project. This is state of the art technology so that people can have better health care, taking advantage of technology to improve our health care system. This is something that is very important for the provinces to be able to deliver on the health care for Canadians, for their residents. Again if the Liberals are successful in their delay and obstruction plan this is something that will be lost if the bill is not dealt with and does not receive royal assent in the near future.
There is another one that is of particular of interest to me because it does affect residents in my part of Ontario. In fact the announcement was made in York region where I live and where my constituency is. That is the $225 million to protect endangered spaces, working in conjunction with groups like the Nature Conservancy of Canada to acquire sensitive lands that otherwise might be lost to development, or if not to acquire them, to put in place the kinds of conservation easements to ensure that they will be protected in their natural state for the foreseeable future, for as long as our legal regime remains in place, which is basically for as long as life continues as we know it. That money is very important but that money and the potential to protect those endangered lands will be lost if we cannot get the budget implementation bill passed in the appropriate time.
I also want to talk about the $30 million going to the Rick Hansen Foundation. Rick Hansen is the man in motion, a great Canadian who rolled his wheelchair around the world. He is a very strong personality and a great activist for his cause of spinal cord research. He suffered an injury but he showed that it did not hold him back and he did his around the world tour. I think it was in 1984 when he started his tour, which was an inspiration to all of us. The ongoing work of the foundation from the money he raised then is important. There is $30 million that we would like to see dedicated to that foundation. That $30 million would be lost if the Liberals have their way and they delay and obstruct this bill past the deadline we are dealing with.
For all of those reasons, the budget implementation bill is very important, not just because we want to see it passed, and that is a good reason, but there are actual, real consequences with a ticking clock, because of the fact that a significant amount of the funds are anchored in the previous fiscal year before March 31. That means we have to pass it before the books are closed. Basically we have to get royal assent. We have to get it all the way through before the folks here on Parliament Hill go home to their ridings for the summer. In order to do that, we want to see the potential to deal with this bill for as long as we need to.
I might add that we had hoped to be debating many other bills but the Liberals have chosen to delay this budget implementation bill in every way possible and for as long as they can, as we have seen in the House today and as we saw last Friday and so on. We have tried other measures to speed things along but they have stepped in to block them every time.
The other important bill that we need to deal with is Bill C-23, a Criminal Code amendment. Our justice agenda is very important, and Bill C-23 is a bill to update the Criminal Code provisions. It has come back to the House from committee and it is now at report stage. We would like to deal with that quickly but we will need some time in the House.
Similarly, we are expecting to see Bill C-11 on transport come back from the Senate with amendments. We will need to see whether this House agrees with those amendments or not. Bill C-11 is an important bill that has been around a long time, as members can see by the number, and we have been waiting for about a year to deal with it.
We also have Bill C-31, the election integrity bill. It is in the Senate and the Senate has indicated a desire to make some amendments to the bill. We and, I think, all parties would like to see that bill in this place, or at least three of the parties in the House would. The bill was amended at committee and we, as the government, accepted the amendments proposed by the Liberals and the Bloc.
Unfortunately, the Liberals in the Senate had a very different view of how the bill should work from the Liberals in the House of Commons. The Liberals in the Senate are actually getting rid of the House of Commons Liberal amendment on how to deal with the lists and the disclosure of information to political parties. They actually changed it to a position that was identical to what the Conservatives had originally proposed at committee.
As a result of the Liberals in the Senate deciding that they do not agree with the Liberals in the House of Commons, it means that we as the House of Commons need to deal with that bill one more time once the Senate has dealt with it.
We are waiting for that little ping-pong game between the Liberals in the Senate and the Liberals in the House of Commons to come to an end. When it does end, hopefully we can achieve a resolution on which we can all agree to ensure that future elections will proceed with a greater degree of integrity and probity, something that is very important to all parties and all members of this House.
Another bill that has come back after a long stay at committee is Bill C-42, the Quarantine Act, a very important bill on health matters and something we would like to deal with.
I know of one bill that the opposition House leader, the member for Wascana, has been very generous in showing a willingness to fast track and deal with very quickly and we are hoping to have it at report stage in the House very soon. I think we are in a position where we can do that very soon. I know other parties want some level of scrutiny so the very generous offer of the opposition House leader was one that we took up, but not everybody did. We can seek to get it passed through as many stages as possible in the House as quickly as possible. The bill I am talking about is the one dealing with Olympic symbols. I would like to see it dealt with on the House of Commons side and then go to the Senate.
That is an important bill for the folks who are putting together the 2010 Olympic Games in Whistler and Vancouver. It is important because it deals with copyright, trademarks and the like. We all know how challenging it is to put on these kind of games in this day and age and the ability to protect copyrights, to deal with merchandise and to generate that revenue to support the athletes, the games and the legacy venues that will be constructed as a result of that is important to the people who are involved, whether it be the athletes, the organizers or the people in those communities who will benefit from the legacies.
We are also waiting on other bills, such as Bill C-51, the Nunavik Inuit land claims, and Bill C-59 on video piracy. Bill C-59 was just introduced but the newspapers are saying that it is an important bill because it would create some meaningful consequences for people who engage in the illegal video taping of major films with the ultimate objective of putting them on the black market to sell them illegally without the copyright rights to it. That is something that has been hurting the film industry.
In places like Vancouver and Toronto, in fact all across the country, the film industry has become very important, but those places in particular. It is important that Canada maintains its credibility within that industry and that we support our artists and the people who give value to that intellectual property and that we show leadership as a country in protecting it.
In the future, as we move away from manufactured goods and products to the kinds of services that have more to do with intellectual property, we need to be seen as real leaders in that regard. As I said, media reports are suggesting that all parties actually support Bill C-59, which is why we would like to move it quickly.
Another bill that we recently introduced would support the Red Cross/Red Crescent in the adoption of a new symbol. We need to do that here in Canada through legislation because of a charter that exists. The bill would create an additional non-denominational symbol, which is the Red Crystal, that can be used through ratification of a treaty. If the Red Crescent symbol or the Red Cross symbol creates some discomfort with the local population, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Society would be able to use the Red Crystal symbol as an alternate symbol, which is why as a country we need to recognize and ratify that it would have all the protections under the Geneva convention so that anyone would respect it. However, there would be consequences if people misused the symbol in trying to conduct an offensive military operation. The symbol would need to be used for the purpose intended, which is to protect and save lives in difficult scenes around the world.
All of the bills I have spoken about are on the House calendar. Some are in front of us and we would like to deal with them but others are still at committee.
I did not even speak to the first nations land management, which is a bill that was launched in the Senate.
We would like to see the passage of some bills that are still in committee and which we would like to see back from committee. We thought some would come back a little bit sooner, such as Bill C-6, the amendments to the Aeronautics Act. The committee has been doing clause by clause on Bill C-6 for almost a month now. I am glad to see that the committee is being that attentive but it is a bill that is important and we would like to see it.
The bill that I hope the committee deals with soon is Bill C-32 on impaired driving. I have spoken about the importance of justice and making our streets and communities safer. It was one of the five cornerstone priorities of the Conservatives when we ran in the last election. It was restated on January 4 by the Prime Minister as another priority.
I should acknowledge that we have had some good progress on getting some of those justice bills through the House but it was not easy. Some of them, like Bill C-10 dealing with mandatory penalties for gun crimes, stayed at committee. If one were to listen to politicians speak, one would think there is a consensus on the importance of mandatory penalties for gun crimes. Even the Liberal Party in the last election had that as one of its key elements in its platform.
However, when it came to committee, things were a little bit different. The Liberal Party actually gutted the meaningful parts of the legislation and it held up the legislation at committee for 252 days. Fortunately, that time is past and, thanks to the support of the New Democratic Party, we were able to put some teeth back into that legislation and make it meaningful. The legislation now contains some meaningful mandatory penalties for those gang members and crooks who want to terrorize our communities with guns and commit violent acts. They will face real consequences. When they commit an offence like that they will go to jail. There will be no more “get out of jail free” card and no more house arrest as a solution. They will actually serve real jail time for some of those offences. Where there already were mandatory penalties, they will be tougher and stronger mandatory penalities so that we can take real action.
I know these are important justice issues for Canadians, and that the gun legislation is a part of it, but the other bill that we are waiting for from committee is Bill C-32 on impaired driving. It is very easy to deal with impaired driving on alcohol right now because we have breathalyzers and standards. However, a much more difficult element is driving impaired through the use of other illegal substances, such as controlled or narcotic substances, or, in simple terms, drugs. People who use and abuse drugs and then proceed to drive a vehicle are just as impaired, if not more impaired, as someone who has consumed excessive alcohol. The consequences in terms of the risk to other drivers on the road are just as great. It can change the lives of a family if someone were to die or become injured. The lives of a family could be absolutely shattered when an accident occurs because of that kind of behaviour.
Business of the HouseOral Questions
June 7th, 2007 / 3 p.m.
Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, today we will be continuing with the business of supply.
Tomorrow we hope to conclude third reading of Bill C-52. In answer to the question on priorities, I would point out that Bill C-52, the budget implement bill, is the number one priority of this government. We can talk about other priorities after we see an indication that it will be heading for royal assent. If we do not have it, it will result in the loss of $4.3 billion in 2006-07 year end measures which include: $1.5 billion for the Canada ecotrust for the provinces; $600 million for patient wait times guarantees; $400 million for Canada Health Infoway; $200 million for protection of endangered species; $30 million for the Great Bear rain forest; $600 million for labour market agreements for the provinces; $30 million for the Rick Hansen Foundation; $100 million in aid for Afghanistan; $100 million to Genome Canada; and so on. It is a long list of important priorities financing that will be lost if the bill is not passed by the end of this session in June. That is obviously our number one priority.
Next week will be getting things done for all of us week when we consider a number of bills that are in their final stages of the legislative process.
The following bills will be placed under Government Orders for debate: Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, which the Senate reported with amendments and which is now back before the House to receive the approval of the members, and Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments).
We are awaiting the Senate's report with amendments on Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.
Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act, including amendments in relation to foreign investment entities and non-resident trusts, and to provide for the bijural expression of the provisions of that Act, Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act and Bill C-47, An Act respecting the protection of marks related to the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games and protection against certain misleading business associations and making a related amendment to the Trade-marks Act, will probably be passed by the House at third reading.
Discussions have taken place with the opposition parties, and there may be consent to fast-track some or all of the following bills: Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unauthorized recording of a movie), Bill S-6, An Act to amend the First Nations Land Management Act and Bill C-51, An Act to give effect to the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement and to make a consequential amendment to another Act.
There is also a possibility of quick passage of a new bill entitled “An act to amend the Geneva Conventions Act, an act to incorporate the Canadian Red Cross Society and the Trademarks Act”, which appears on today's notice paper.
There are a number of other bills I am still hoping we could get included in getting things done for all of us week, provided that they get reported back from committee, in particular, Bill C-6 aeronautics; Bill C-27 dangerous offenders; Bill C-32 impaired driving; and Bill C-44, the bill to grant first nations people the human rights that every other Canadian enjoys. First nations people expect the House to get things done for them as well, so I urge the aboriginal affairs committee to stop delaying Bill C-44 and report it back to the House early next week. It is a priority for this government.
Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings
June 4th, 2007 / 3:25 p.m.
Art Hanger Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
In accordance with the order of reference of Monday, October 16, 2006, your committee has considered Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), and has agreed on Thursday, May 31 to report it with amendments.
Business of the HouseOral Questions
May 31st, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the last point, we have already addressed that.
However, with regard to the balance of Thursday's statement, I am pleased to respond that today and tomorrow we will continue with Bill C-55, the expanded voting opportunities bill; Bill C-14, the adoption bill; Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; and Bill C-45, the fisheries act.
In the last Thursday statement, we indicated that we were hoping to have this week as “enhancing the quality of the life of first nations people week” but this was cancelled by the opposition parties when they did not release Bill C-44 from committee, the bill that would give the first nations protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Not only is it being held up now but, as early as this morning in this House, the opposition obstructed our efforts to get the bill dealt with forthwith so that first nations people could have the human rights that every other Canadian enjoys. We know that if all parties would agree to proceed with that, as we saw when we sought unanimous consent, it could proceed, but some would prefer to obstruct it.
Next week will be welcome back from committee week, when we welcome business that has been at committee, including some that has been stalled there for some time. We will deal with Bill C-52, the budget implementation bill, which will begin report stage on Monday and, hopefully, we can get third reading wrapped up by Tuesday.
Following the budget bill, we will call for report stage and third reading of Bill C-35, bail reform. After that, we will call Bill C-23, the Criminal Code amendments. I hardly remember when Bill C-23 was sent to the committee by this House. That took place long before I was even House leader 228 days ago.
Thursday, June 7, shall be the last allotted day. There are a number of other bills that we would like to include in our welcome back from committee week. I still hope we can see Bill C-44, the amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act, to which I just referred; Bill C-6, the amendments to the Aeronautics Act; Bill C-27 dealing with dangerous offenders; Bill C-32 dealing with impaired driving; and Bill C-33 dealing with foreign investment, if the opposition parties will release those from committee.
May 31st, 2007 / 9:50 a.m.
Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
The committee has already agreed to an amendment to clause 43 of Bill C-23. Henceforth, when a young offender is serving a youth sentence and is also sentenced as an adult... At present, the method of calculating sentences for adults applies to the full sentence imposed on a young offender under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. We are proposing to amend clause 43 so that adult sentencing provisions would now apply only to the balance of the youth sentence, not to the entire sentence, which makes an important different in the calculation.
Take, for example, a young offender who receives a 24-month sentence and is then subsequently sentenced as an adult. If adult sentencing measures were applied in all cases, the offender would be eligible for parole after serving two-thirds, or 16 months, of the sentence. So, if the offender has served one year of his sentence, he would have four months left to serve before becoming eligible for parole. However, if only the balance of the sentence is considered in the calculation, two-thirds of the outstanding balance equals eight months. Therefore, instead of becoming eligible for parole in four months, under the amended clause 43, he would be eligible in only eight months. The regime as such clarifies the fact that combining the two sentences does not reduce the sentence handed down to the young offender in any unreasonable way.
This was an attempt to explain clause 43 to you. Two sentencing regimes apply to young offenders. Clause 43 amends a Criminal Code provision, but we also have subsection 6(7.1) of the Prisons and Reformatories Act which covers situations in which the adult sentencing regime will apply to all sentences. Therefore, this particular provision must also be amended if the Criminal Code amendment is to make any sense.
May 31st, 2007 / 9:40 a.m.
Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
An earlier clause in Bill C-23 amended section 145 of the Criminal Code. That particular amendment has already been adopted by the committee. However, the text of section 145 is reproduced in Form 12 in clause 45.1. Unfortunately, the wording does not reflect the proposed amendment to a previous provision in Bill C-23. If no changes are made, then section 145 of the Criminal Code would be different from the text reproduced in Form 12.
Again, this is a technical amendment. I understand that at first glance, this amendment is inadmissible because it has to do with a form not covered by Bill C-23. However, to my mind, there is a very clear link between the bill and the proposed change, in that we only want the new wording of section 145 to be reflected.
May 31st, 2007 / 9:35 a.m.
Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
Clause 37 of Bill C-23 seeks to amend the way in which information regarding probation is conveyed to the offender. In the past, pursuant to the existing provision, the court arranged for the accused to obtain certain information whereas pursuant to the new clause 37, the court itself will be required to supply certain information to the accused, while other information will be conveyed to him by, for example, the clerk.
However, by proposing new wording for section 732.1, our intention was certainly not to modify in any way the information to be supplied to the accused, only the way in which that information is conveyed. Unfortunately, in our new version, we neglected to mention one bit of information, namely the procedure that the offender should follow to obtain changes to his probation order. For that reason, the government amendment proposes to add subsection 732.2(3) which was omitted from the new wording proposed in clause 37.
May 31st, 2007 / 9:20 a.m.
Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
Here again, the proposed amendment would correct a drafting oversight with respect to the regime set out under section 568. The drafters neglected to reflect this change in section 569 which pertains to Nunavut's unique situation. Under section 568, an accused may re-elect, when a preferred indictment has been filed. We would like the same situation to apply in Nunavut, but as you know, special procedural rules apply in Nunavut because of its unified court system. Yet, we have not proposed the same changes to section 569. I understand that section 569 is not affected by Bill C-23, but we feel that for the sake of consistency and procedural fairness, this amendment should be adopted.
May 31st, 2007 / 9:20 a.m.
The Vice-Chair Liberal Derek Lee
I call the meeting to order.
We're continuing our clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-23.
We had reached and completed clause 23, coincidentally, and we're now moving to clause 24, for which there is an amendment proposed by the government.
(On clause 24)
I would invite the mover, who appears to be Mr. Moore, to introduce the amendment, and we will consider it.
I should say that we're joined today in our clause-by-clause consideration by Ms. Desaulniers and Ms. Soublière from the Department of Justice, as well as Mr. Moore, of course. Thank you.
Government PoliciesOral Questions
May 28th, 2007 / 2:40 p.m.
Mr. Speaker, we came here with five clear priorities and we have been delivering on those priorities, or we have been trying to, except for one thing. The opposition parties continue to stand in front of our priority on getting tough on crime, on making our streets and communities safer.
I talked about mandatory penalties for gun crimes. I know that is heavy on the minds of Canadians. It was held up just at committee, not in the House, 232 days.
Let me talk about Bill C-23, the Criminal Code, 224 days and counting at committee; age of protection, 175 days at committee.
Committees of the HouseOral Questions
May 18th, 2007 / 11:20 a.m.
Mr. Speaker, the opposition is obstructing Parliament.
Let us look at the justice agenda: Bill C-10, the mandatory penalties for gun crimes bill, a very important part of the agenda, was held up for 252 days in committee by the opposition parties, particularly the Liberals and the Bloc members; Bill C-23, the amendments to the Criminal Code, was held up for 214 days at committee by the opposition parties; Bill C-22, the age of protection bill, 175 days; the DNA identification bill, 148 days; and the conditional sentencing bill, 139 days.
May 17th, 2007 / 2:25 p.m.
Mr. Speaker, I understand it when I hear it from the Liberals, but I am surprised when the NDP members start being concerned about the way that things are being conducted. They think that an hour or two of debate in a committee by a Conservative is a delay and an obstruction.
Let me talk about delay and obstruction. Let me talk about some bills that were at the justice committee. Bill C-10 on mandatory penalties for gun crimes was there for 252 days. That is obstruction and delay. Let us talk about, for example, the criminal procedure bill, Bill C-23. That was at committee for 213 days. Let us talk about the age of protection bill, Bill C-22. That was held up at committee by the opposition for--
May 17th, 2007 / 10:15 a.m.
Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
I'd like to move the following motion:
Whereas public concerns have been raised with regard to section 462.34(4) of the Criminal Code (Application for review of special warrants and restraint orders);
Whereas section 462.34 can by judicial order allow alleged criminals to pay their lawyers out of money seized from them by police;
Whereas this practice is not regulated by clear criteria;
Whereas there has been little public scrutiny of this practice;
It is therefore proposed that:
1. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights study section 462.34 of the Criminal Code and its application, this after its study of Bill C-23 comes to a close;
2. That the Committee dedicate a minimum of 2 sessions to this study;
3. That the Chair of the Committee report its findings to the House.
I have an amendment.
May 15th, 2007 / 4:30 p.m.
Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
I have just checked. We know that for three Liberal members of the committee, there will be no problem if we continue the clause-by-clause study of Bill C-23 tomorrow, from 4:30 to 5:30. If there is a problem for the fourth Liberal member of the committee, we will try to have a replacement. If the other committee members are in agreement, we can proceed as suggested.
May 15th, 2007 / 4:30 p.m.
Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC
I think we need to finish studying Bill C-23 as quickly as possible. It is not a contentious bill. I see no problem with it.
May 15th, 2007 / 10 a.m.
The Chair Conservative Art Hanger
The same problem is going to crop up here as it did with your motion, Monsieur Ménard. It's still changing a section that is not part and parcel of the....although Bill C-23 touches on it.
May 15th, 2007 / 9:55 a.m.
The Chair Conservative Art Hanger
There is, no doubt, some sympathy for it, Mr. Ménard. But it proposes to change another section of the Criminal Code that this bill, Bill C-23 does not touch on. You're talking about section 487.01. Bill C-23 does not deal with it. It does change some sections of the Criminal Code, but not this particular one.
May 15th, 2007 / 9:50 a.m.
The Chair Conservative Art Hanger
That ends that business.
We have before us Monsieur Marc Tremblay, general counsel and director, official languages law group; and Anouk Desaulniers, senior counsel, criminal law policy section.
We are now going into clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-23.
(On clause 1)
May 15th, 2007 / 9:15 a.m.
Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB
The witnesses are here for Bill C-23, not to engage in a debate on Mr. Ménard's motion.
May 10th, 2007 / 11 a.m.
The Chair Conservative Art Hanger
We have clause-by-clause on Bill C-23 at the next meeting.
There's a motion for adjournment.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
May 3rd, 2007 / 11 a.m.
Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak at the report stage on Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection).
I would like to say, for those who are listening, that the Liberal Party of Canada supports this legislation.
Before I begin discussing the bill in detail, I wish to briefly address several remarks made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice in his speech several minutes ago. He said that there were delays with the bill and that the government was happy that the bill was finally at this stage.
It is the government's prerogative to determine when it wants to move second reading and debate of its own legislation. The government moved debate at second reading on October 30, 2006. This was after the Liberal justice strategy was announced, after Liberals and the then Liberal justice critic offered to fast-track Bill C-22 and a number of other justice bills that the Conservative government had tabled.
Debate at second reading ended on October 30, 2006, which meant that there was an agreement by all parties not to delay debate in the House and to get the bill into committee as quickly as possible. It was referred to the justice and human rights committee, which was already conducting hearings on a series of other government bills and private members' bills.
The justice and human rights committee held hearings on Bill C-22, the age of protection bill, on March 21, March 22, March 27 and March 29, 2007. Members will remember that there was a two week adjournment for the Easter period.
The House returned on April 16 and the justice and human rights committee, which is scheduled to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, met on Tuesday, April 17 and on Thursday, April 19. The committee concluded its clause by clause and reported the bill back to the House on April 23.
The government decides when to move debate at report stage and it only decided to move Bill C-22 at report stage this week. It was in a line of bills for which the government determines the order.
If any member of that government is dissatisfied with the length of time it has taken for Bill C-22 to pass through second reading debate, committee stage and reported back, and now be at report stage debate, they need only to look at themselves in the mirror.
As the House knows, the bill has returned to the House from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. It has been reported with an amendment, as was mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.
The amendment added marriage as a defence where an accused is charged with: sexual interference, which is section 151 of the Criminal Code; invitation to sexual touching, section 152 of the Criminal Code; indecent acts, section 173.2 of the Criminal Code; and sexual assault, section 271 of the Criminal Code, in cases where the complainant is 14 years or older but under the age of 16. We Liberals worked alongside the other parties to bring this amendment through.
We are happy to see it included in the committee's report on the bill. We are also happy that, notwithstanding the fact that the Conservative members on the justice and human rights committee, including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, opposed the amendment in committee, those members have not brought forth a motion to amend the report stage bill and remove that defence.
I had proposed an amendment to the bill. The amendment would have repealed section 159 of the Criminal Code. This section sets out anal intercourse as a criminal offence. This outdated section of the Criminal Code is a relic of Canada's past and in fact has been found contrary to Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two appellate courts, one in Quebec and the other in Ontario, reached this conclusion.
When the government drafted Bill C-22, it could have acted then to remove this archaic section of the Criminal Code or, having failed to do that, perhaps through inadvertence--I gave them the benefit of the doubt that it was by inadvertence--the government at that point could have supported my amendment in committee, because even if an amendment is beyond the scope of the bill, if the government agrees to the amendment it is then admissible and can be debated, voted on and adopted.
The government, however, decided on two occasions, when it was forced to take on the issue with this outmoded, archaic section of the Criminal Code, which is clearly a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that it would instead champion discrimination and homophobia. I think this speaks volumes to that Conservative government's values and the members of that government.
Be that as it may, the bill did pass through the committee without other changes. The committee hearings on Bill C-22 proceeded smoothly and brought forth the views of many Canadian individuals and organizations who have a stake in this issue. Most stakeholders spoke in favour of the bill, while some did speak against it.
Among all parties there was a strong desire to support the bill and to see it clear the committee process quickly and efficiently. I believe the dates that I mentioned show that this is exactly what we achieved.
I would like to repeat that our party supports Bill C-22. Since October 2006, we have repeatedly offered to fast-track a number of justice bills. Surprisingly, the minority Conservative government has refused our offer. It would seem that the government addresses justice issues only when it thinks it can manipulate them for political gain. This is a government that would have Canadians believe it is taking action, but that is not delivering the goods. This is a government that is far more interested in grabbing headlines than getting results that will make Canadians and Canadian communities safer. This is a pattern that has been repeated a number of times already, as in the case of Bill C-22.
In October 2006, my colleague, the member for London West, who was then our party's justice critic, offered the government the chance to fast-track a series of six justice bills that the government had tabled in this House, including Bill C-22. The government turned us down flat. With my colleague, the member for Wascana, who is the Liberal House leader, I made the same offer again in mid-March, and again the government turned a deaf ear.
Towards the end of March, the Leader of the Opposition also made the same offer. The government again did not listen and completely ignored this last offer. To top it off, the government even had the audacity to oppose a motion I tabled to immediately move to third reading of four bills that the government itself had tabled, that is Bills C-18, C-23, C-35, and of course C-22.
Bill C-18 deals with DNA identification. Bill C-23, which is presently before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, is an omnibus bill that makes corrections and technical amendments to the Criminal Code with respect to various procedures. Bill C-35 deals with the reverse onus of proof in bail hearings. This government has stated that this bill is all-important to its agenda and to its justice policy but has flatly refused to accelerate the process in the House. The last bill is Bill C-22, which we are currently debating. This is the first time, in my almost 10 years as a member of Parliament, that I have seen a federal government impede the progress of its own legislation. Who would have thought it possible? Anything is possible, its seems, for this minority Conservative government.
In conclusion, I simply wish to say that, from the time Bill C-22 was tabled in this House, in June 2006, the Liberal Party of Canada, the official opposition, has shown its support for this bill and has attempted to convince this government to fast-track it. However, it was the government that blocked any attempt by the official opposition to quickly adopt Bill C-22. We are very pleased that, finally, this bill is in the House at the report and third reading stage. We intend to vigorously support this bill.
May 3rd, 2007 / 10:15 a.m.
The Chair Conservative Art Hanger
I believe it very much was, Mr. Fraser.
Thank you all for your appearance, Madame Côté, Madame Aucoin, Mr. Fraser, and Ms. Tremblay. Thank you for being here.
That brings our meeting dealing with Bill C-23to a close.
We will suspend for about two to three minutes.
I call the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to order.
We have a motion put forward by Monsieur Ménard regarding matters dealing with organized crime, gangs, drugs, etc.
I'll give Mr. Ménard the floor. There are some issues as to how the government can deal with the motion, but I'll let you explain first, Mr. Ménard.
May 3rd, 2007 / 9:50 a.m.
Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC
Good morning Mr. Fraser. This is the second time that I have met you. The first time was at the Official Languages Committee.
Good morning Ms. Tremblay, Ms. Aucoin and Ms. Côté.
With respect to Bill C-23, I think that it does provide some protection to the accused. I believe that we agree on that. We are often criticized for following an ideology that is only concerned about the victims. In this case, we have given some thought to the accused. My question is to Ms. Aucoin, who is a lawyer.
About two years ago, there was a megatrial in my province. Do you know what a megatrial looks like? Thirty-eight individuals who were involved in drug trafficking, murders, etc., were all charged at the same time. Some were francophones, and others were anglophones. The language of crime is universal. They were all brought before the judge at the Gouin Court House. The lawyers, myself among them, were not stupid. We asked for separate trials. Why? Because time spent waiting for trials means a double credit, so it is something that is often used.
I am wondering if the trials could be split. In this type of situation, an individual does not want to be charged alongside a co-accused who could testify against him, and vice versa. If I understand correctly, language will also become a tool. Therefore, if you have 38 defendants, you could end up with 38 separate trials.
I am talking about a megatrial. You are probably thinking about an ordinary trial with a single defendant. That would not be very difficult. But in almost every province, there are megatrials related to drug charges. That means that a clever lawyer could now use this bill, which protects the rights of the accused, and there would be 38 separate trials. Two grounds would then be available to him.
You are a lawyer working in the area of common law. I would like you to tell me if you think that could ever happen.
May 3rd, 2007 / 9:15 a.m.
Louise Aucoin President, Federation of Associations of French-speaking Jurists of Common Law Inc.
Good morning to all members of the committee.
My name is Louise Aucoin and I am the President of the Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression française de Common Law, also known as the FAJEF. With me this morning is Diane Côté, the Director of Community and Government Liaison for the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, the FCFA.
With your permission, I would like to talk to you briefly about the FAJEF. The federation is made up of seven French-speaking jurists associations and its mandate is to promote and defend the language rights of francophones in minority situations, particularly, but not exclusively, with regard to the administration of justice. The FAJEF therefore has a community mandate.
For your information, there are French-speaking jurists associations in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and they represent approximately 1,200 French-speaking jurists. The FAJEF is also a member of the FCFA. That is the reason why Ms. Côté is here with me.
My presentation today will deal with Bill C-23, particularly with its proposed language amendments to the Criminal Code.
To begin, the FAJEF is generally pleased with the amendments to the language provisions in Bill C-23. The amendments are positive, particularly the duty to advise the accused of their right to choose the official language used during their criminal court case. That being said, the FAJEF is still concerned by a number of amendments and would like to suggest a few improvements. We have drawn up four specific recommendations.
The first recommendation deals with subsection 530(6). This subsection automatically directs trials to be bilingual—and we insist upon the word "automatic"—when co-accused choose different official languages. Although it is in the interest of justice to occasionally hold bilingual trials, the FAJEF believes that bilingual trials should not become automatic, because they can significantly weaken the accused's language rights.
The FAJEF recommends that there be a very minor amendment to the wording of subsection 530(6), namely the addition of the word "may", at the beginning. Such an amendment to the wording would allow judges to exercise their discretionary authority by either agreeing or not agreeing to a bilingual trial, in light of the specific circumstances of each case.
Our second recommendation concerns subsection 530.01(1) of the bill. This subsection provides that, once the accused has asked to be tried in an official language that is different from that of the information and indictment, the prosecutor has to, at the request of the accused—and this is an issue raised by Mr. Fraser—provide the accused with a written translation of the text. The FAJEF believes that the accused should automatically receive a translated copy of the information and indictment, rather than have to ask for it, especially since the accused would already have indicated the official language to be used during his or her trial. It is the FAJEF's view that the accused should not be required to make several requests for proceedings to be conducted in the official language of his or her choice. A single request should be sufficient.
Our third recommendation deals with paragraph 530.1(c). This paragraph allows the presiding justice or judge to authorize the prosecutor to examine or cross-examine a witness in the official language of the witness, even though it is not that of the accused or that in which the accused can best give testimony.
The FAJEF is of the view that the prosecutor should, as far as possible, use the language of the accused to examine or cross-examine a witness, although at times it may be justified for the prosecutor to examine or cross-examine a witness in a language other than that of the accused. We believe that by adding "where circumstances warrant" to the wording of paragraph 530.1(c), the discretion of the judge or justice would be better delimited so that such a practice would not become automatic.
Finally, our fourth recommendation has to do with section 531. The FAJEF is concerned about section 531 of the bill, and its application in New Brunswick in particular, because this section could lead to trials being moved from one territorial division to another for reasons of language. Given the quite unique language situation in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province, criminal trials are suppose to be available in both official languages in all territorial divisions of the province, without requiring the accused to be tried in another division. The FAJEF would like to see the wording of section 531 of Bill C-23 amended accordingly.
So those are FAJEF's four recommendations. However, before closing, I would like to point out that Bill C-23 raises two other concerns that we would like to see dealt with in the near future.
First, since the right to be tried in the official language of one's choosing requires there to be a minimum number of bilingual judges, the process for appointing judges to the federal bench should be changed in order to better reflect that reality. For example, the level of bilingualism of candidates should be evaluated, and the number of bilingual judges needed to ensure equal access to justice in French in Canada should be provided for in every province or region. That's definitely not the way things stand right now.
Second, it is important that language rights at trial also extend, hopefully in the near future, to all of the procedures incidental to a trial and to other forms of inquiry and hearing under the Criminal Code, such as an application for variation in a probation or conditional sentence order, a dangerous offender application, or an application for judicial review.
By way of conclusion, the FAJEF supports the linguistic amendments set out in Bill C-23, subject to the reservations we have expressed.
I would be happy to answer all of your questions. Thank you.
May 3rd, 2007 / 9:10 a.m.
Graham Fraser Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, mesdames et messieurs, thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear today to comment on Bill C-23, and more specifically on the proposed amendments to sections 530 and 530.1, which guarantee the language rights of accused persons.
As stated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Beaulac, the purpose of these provisions is to provide equal access to the courts by accused persons speaking one of the official languages of Canada in order to assist official languages minorities in preserving their cultural identity. For quite some time, the commissioner's office has identified the need to amend these provisions.
To provide some background to my comments, I should point out that Bill C-23 deals with some of the issues that were brought to light in the 1995 study by the then Commissioner of Official Languages, Victor Goldbloom, The Equitable use of English and French Before the Courts in Canada.
I am pleased to see that a number of the provisions of Bill C-23 serve to clarify and improve the language rights provisions of the Criminal Code and must be seen as advancements in that regard.
For example, Bill C-23 clarifies that the justice of the peace or provincial court judge before whom the accused first appears will ensure that the accused is advised of his or her right to a trial in the official language of choice. Currently the accused is informed of this right only if unrepresented by counsel. The extension of this right to all accused represents a positive step forward.
Furthermore, that the purpose of the proposed amendments is to codify existing jurisprudence on language rights in Canada is indeed reflected in a number of the bill's provisions.
For instance, Bill C-23 recognizes the accused's right to receive a translation of the information or indictment against him or her. This is a positive step in the direction set out by the courts. However, under the proposed amendment, the accused would have to make an application for a translation of the information or indictment even if he or she had already chosen the official language to be used at trial.
The information or indictment contains important information required for the accused to respond to the charges. The burden should not fall upon the accused to make an application for translation. He or she should have access to this as promptly as possible without having to make an application.
I recommend that clause 19 of Bill C-23, which adds proposed section 530.01, be modified accordingly.
Another issue that I wish to address today is that of bilingual trials. Under the new subsection 530(6) of the Criminal Code, introduced by subsection 18(2) of Bill C-23, where two or more accused who would otherwise be tried jointly choose to be tried in different official languages, an order that the trial be held in both official languages is warranted. The Criminal Code currently allows for courts to order bilingual trials. However, according to the relevant jurisprudence in this area of the law, for a court to make such an order, it must first be satisfied that the rights of the co-accused and the interests of justice are appropriately balanced. Because this amendment explicitly provides for circumstances in which a bilingual trial is warranted, it is my concern that it would eliminate this important balancing exercise. I therefore recommend that the proposed wording of subsection 530(6) be modified to maintain this element of judicial discretion in ordering a bilingual trial. The holding of a bilingual trial presupposes that the co-accused have a sufficient grasp of both languages to understand the proceedings. This may not always the case.
To conclude, I would like to draw your attention to two issues not specifically addressed by Bill C-23. The first pertains to the fact that the language rights provisions in the Criminal Code are restricted to the trial and preliminary inquiry stages of the criminal process. In the past, my predecessors advocated for the extension of such rights to procedures related to the trial, such as motions, jury selection and bail hearings, as well as the appeal process generally. These are critical stages of the criminal process, and have a significant impact on the outcome of the process as a whole. Without extending language rights to related proceedings, the right of the accused to a trial in his or her official language is not fully achieved. We encourage the government to examine this issue in the near future.
The second, but perhaps most important issue, pertains to the shortage of bilingual judges in provincial superior courts. As you are no doubt aware, the shortage of bilingual judges, that is judges with adequate knowledge of both English and French, constitutes one of the main barriers to access to justice in our two official languages. This problem has been identified by my predecessors since the early 1990s, and by the Department of Justice in a study entitled "Environmental Scan: Access to Justice". It still exists.
The Fédération des associations des juristes d'expression française, the Canadian Bar Association as well as Commissioner Dyane Adam raised the issue before the House Subcommittee on the Process for Appointment of the Judiciary.
In its preliminary report made public in November 2005, the subcommittee recognized the importance of modifying the process in order to remedy the problem. It is important that the superior courts have a sufficient level of institutional bilingualism in order for the accused to benefit from the language guarantees provided for in sections 530 and 530.1 of the Criminal Code. Without this capacity, the language provisions of the Criminal Code have no chance of fulfilling their objective, which is to provide the accused with the right to be tried in the official language of his or her choice.
Thank you for hearing my comments, both positive and constructive, on Bill C-23. I'm very pleased by the positive features of the bill in terms of language rights in the criminal context. However, I would ask that you consider the suggestions I've made in order to improve it, as well as my comments for further advancement in this important area.
I'd be very happy to answer any questions you may have.
May 3rd, 2007 / 9:10 a.m.
The Chair Conservative Art Hanger
I would like to call the meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to order.
It is Thursday, May 3, and our orders of the day deal with Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments).
Again, I will apologize directly to our witnesses for my late appearance, as well as Mr. Comartin's. We were listening to a very riveting story at the national prayer breakfast, and we didn't want to leave before we could get the total gist of it. But I do apologize for making everyone wait.
We have, from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Mr. Graham Fraser, Commissioner; and Johane Tremblay, director of the legal affairs branch. From the Federation of Associations of French-speaking Jurists of Common Law, we have Louise Aucoin as well as Madame Côté.
Thank you all for being here. We will proceed along the order in which the witnesses are noted on the agenda, beginning with Mr. Fraser.
May 2nd, 2007 / 4:20 p.m.
Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC
Thank you. Good afternoon minister. Good afternoon Ms. Desaulniers and Mr. Tremblay.
My question is rather simple, but I want to make sure that it has been properly understood. In Quebec, there's currently a huge ad campaign underway to prevent car accidents. We know that many car accidents are the result of drunk or impaired driving. Naturally, my government has proposed doing something about this. Because this issue is important, I would like for you to explain something. In Quebec, each year, many people die as a result of drunk driving, or driving under the influence of drugs, an issue that we will talk about later. Minister, you are the sponsor of Bill C-23, and I would like to know what impact it will bear on serious offences such as impaired driving causing death. That is the issue which is important in this bill, and one which is of great interest to me.
May 2nd, 2007 / 4:05 p.m.
Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB
Thank you, and I think that's a great move.
On the issue of the possession of break-in instruments, I know in my riding, which has some suburban and also rural areas, break-and-enter is a major issue. We know that it's being done by a small number of people, but in many cases, as we've heard in testimony here at committee, sometimes it's a small number of individuals who can create a lot of havoc in communities both large and small.
I note that Bill C-23 makes possession of break-in instruments a hybrid offence. I'm wondering what the significance of that is. What can we report back to our constituents on that being made a hybrid offence?
May 2nd, 2007 / 3:55 p.m.
Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON
I heard your concern. I'm sorry, please continue.
Are you asking with respect to the change of venue for trial, why we are doing that?
I'll indicate to you some of the information that I had on that. I guess your concern is why would we permit a change of venue when a trial cannot be held in one of the official languages of this country in a particular territorial division?
The provision that's been in force since 1978, and Bill C-23 does not in any way change the provisions with respect to a change of trial, is simply to clarify the language. Again, there's been no change with respect to the provisions that exist in the Criminal Code. Our attempt was simply to clarify, but maybe I didn't get the import of your question.
May 2nd, 2007 / 3:30 p.m.
Niagara Falls Ontario
Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
You're quite correct, I'm very pleased to be joined by Ms. Anouk Desaulniers, senior counsel, criminal law policy section of the Department of Justice; and Marc Tremblay, general counsel and director of the official languages law group.
I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for the opportunity to be back with you again as you begin your consideration of BillC-23.
I note that during second reading debates, all parties expressed general support for Bill C-23. This bill introduces Criminal Code amendments to update, improve and modernize the law by enhancing the efficiency of criminal procedures, strengthening sentencing measures and clarifying court-related language rights provisions.
Most of the changes brought about by BillC-23 are the result of our work with the provinces and territories as well as stakeholders. These participants and stakeholders in the criminal justice system have been influentual in helping us identify amendments that needed to be made, whether they be deficiencies, gaps, or ways to improve the criminal justice system. Bill C-23 contains a number of technical amendments that, among other things, clarify the meaning of certain provisions.
The bill also includes amendments of a more substantive nature to update the Criminal Code in targeted areas of the code. There are over 40 clauses in Bill C-23, most of which are unrelated. I propose to simply highlight some of them for you today.
Following this brief overview, I'd be pleased to answer questions that the committee members may have, with the assistance, of course, of the departmental officials.
The amendments fall into three principal areas, namely criminal procedure, language of trial, and sentencing.
With respect to criminal procedure, most of the amendments are technical and will, among other things, harmonize and consolidate provisions dealing with proof of service of documents, expedite the execution of out-of-province search warrants by taking advantage of technologies, improve the process with respect to the challenge of jurors to assist in preserving the jury's impartiality, identify the proper appeal route for judicial orders to return seized property, and clarify powers of some reconviction courts when a co-accused does not appear for trial.
The Criminal Code amendments that are considered of a more substantive nature include: the right of an accused to change his or her mode of trial when the Supreme Court of Canada orders a judge and jury trial to be retried, or in cases where an indictment is preferred--that is, where the crown files the indictment directly with the Superior Court; the reclassification of the offence of possessing break-in instruments, which is currently a strictly indictable offence, to a dual procedure to allow the prosecution to elect to proceed by way of indictment or way of summary conviction procedure; and the creation of a corresponding offence for the breach of a non-communication order imposed on an accused who is remanded to pre-trial custody.
With respect to language rights amendments, sections 530 and 530.1 of the Criminal Code guarantee the right of all accused persons to have their preliminary inquiry and trial before a court that speaks their official language. These sections also provide that the Crown prosecutor conducting the prosecution must speak the language of the accused.
These rights have been enforced throughout Canada since January 1, 1990. Canadians have told us, however, that there are still obstacles to full, complete, and equal access to the criminal justice system in one's official language. Court decisions as well as reports by different stakeholders also confirm the need to improve and clarify the current language-of-trial provisions.
The courts have indeed had to wrestle over the years with a number of issues with regard to the proper interpretation of these provisions and their decisions highlight the need for some fine-tuning.
The purpose of these amendments is therefore to ensure a better implementation of the language-of-trial provisions as well as rectify some of the shortcomings identified in a number of studies and by the courts. For instance, one amendment would heed the advice given by the Supreme Court of Canada by requiring courts to inform all accused persons of their right to be tried in their official language, whether they are represented by counsel or not.
The Commissioner of Official Languages, in a 1995 study entitled “The Equitable Use of English and French Before the Courts in Canada”, had also recommended that all accused be better informed of their right to a trial in the official language of their choice.
Another amendment will require that the charging document be translated into the language of the accused upon request. This follows court decisions requiring that such an important document be translated upon request, since it is a logical complement to the accused person's exercising their language rights. Where the charging document has been translated, a further amendment would make clear that where there is an inconsistency between the original version of the document and a translated version, the original charging document would prevail.
Another proposed amendment would provide the presiding judge with the power to issue appropriate orders to contribute to the efficient conduct of bilingual trials. The absence of such provisions has led to fruitless debates, and it is time to bring greater efficiency to such proceedings. Other amendments simply resolve certain anomalies and problems identified with the existing provisions.
On the whole, these amendments bring the language-of-trial provisions of the Criminal Code in line with the judicial interpretation, while also removing some of the hurdles on the road to greater access to justice in both official languages. Under the sentencing portion of the bill, technical as well as substantive amendments have also been put together to respond to current realities or to fill certain gaps. For example, one technical amendment provides for sentencing courts to suspend a conditional sentence order or a probation order during an appeal.
Another amendment will remove uncertainty regarding the application of impaired driving penalties. One such important amendment will clarify that the minimum fine and minimum jail terms that apply for a first, second, and subsequent impaired driving offence, such as operation of a motor vehicle while impaired and refusal to provide a breath sample, do apply to the more serious situations of impaired driving causing bodily harm. The legislation will make it clear that repeat impaired driving offenders whose new offence causes death will have a mandatory period of incarceration and will therefore not be eligible for conditional sentence of imprisonment.
The more substantive changes in Bill C-23 propose to provide courts with the powers to order an offender not to communicate with identified persons while in custody, delay sentencing proceedings so that an offender can participate in a provincially approved treatment program, order the forfeiture of computers and other things used in relation to the offence of Internet luring on application by the attorney general after an accused has been convicted of that offence, order that a driving prohibition be served consecutively to any existing prohibition order, and impose a fine of up to $10,000 for a summary conviction offence where no other maximum fine is provided in a federal statute.
With respect to this last amendment, Mr. Chairman, I recognize there have been concerns raised by some honourable members during the second-reading debate. I would like to say that this government is prepared to work in collaboration with committee members regarding this clause as well as with respect to other issues that may arise during the consideration of the bill.
As I mentioned, Bill C-23 was developed in cooperation with our provincial and territorial partners as well as legal experts. Provinces and territories and other justice system stakeholders are keen to see this bill enacted, as it will improve the effectiveness and access to the criminal justice system.
I would be pleased to respond, with the assistance of my officials, to any questions the committee members might have.
Indeed, given the technical nature of many of the amendments, the expertise of our officials will be particularly relevant and helpful.
Thank you, again, Mr. Chairman.
April 24th, 2007 / 11 a.m.
The Chair Conservative Art Hanger
The time actually is up. I know you won't have time to get to this last point.
Unfortunately, Mr. Murphy was the last on the line here and time has gone.
I would like to advise the committee that the minister will not be available to appear on Bill C-23 this Thursday. The meeting will continue, of course, and we will give instructions to the analyst in reference to the report on judicial appointments. The minister won't be here Thursday. It will be rescheduled.
The meeting is adjourned.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
March 23rd, 2007 / 10:15 a.m.
Don Bell Liberal North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences).
I have long been a strong advocate for tough, smart and effective law and order measures in my riding of North Vancouver. In my previous role as mayor of the district of North Vancouver, I worked closely with local law enforcement officials to address crime and justice issues in our community and to ensure that North Vancouver is safe for residents and families.
Superintendent Gord Tomlinson and the North Vancouver RCMP detachment do excellent work in our communities with a comprehensive policing approach which includes working with concerned members of the community to ensure we are all doing our part.
The North Vancouver block watch program immediately comes to mind. Designed to build safer neighbourhoods by providing support, guidance, training and resource materials to develop and operate neighbourhood block watch programs, block watch has flourished in my riding by informing and engaging citizens about keeping our neighbourhood safe.
The North Vancouver RCMP also facilitates the local citizens on patrol program which utilizes local volunteers to monitor areas where the community is requesting more patrolling and where history and statistics demonstrate crime is more likely to occur.
Volunteers are paired up, given a combination cell phone-radio and they patrol in their own vehicles looking for any suspicious activity, which they phone in to the RCMP. The volunteers receive training on what to look for and how to react when they observe suspicious activity.
The decision to start this program in North Vancouver was prompted by the success of similar programs in Coquitlam, Mission and Vancouver, and it is part of the way the RCMP is expanding its level of service throughout British Columbia through the use of enthusiastic local volunteers.
As well, community policing offices located in neighbourhood shopping centres across North Vancouver are staffed by local volunteers and provide a friendly local face and convenient location for residents to come to for information on policing services and crime prevention programs.
While Bill C-35 makes appropriate changes to better deal with those already charged with firearms related offences, we cannot forget the value that preventive measures, such as block watch, citizens on patrol and community polices offices, have in preventing crimes from being committed in the first place.
While I have always been an advocate for being tough on crime, government can do more to prevent crime in the first place. We can be tough and smart on crime at the same time, while building safer communities with a view to future generations. Constituents in my riding understand this. It is therefore disappointing to see the government is more content playing politics with its law and order agenda.
Like my constituents, the Liberal Leader of the Opposition, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, understands this and is not soft on crime as the Conservative government is attempting to portray him with its latest republican style smear campaign.
A Liberal government would sit down to negotiate with the provinces to give municipalities more money to hire more officers and give the RCMP an extra $200 million to hire 400 officers for rapid enforcement teams across Canada that would boost local police and communities in their fight against guns, gangs, organized crime and drug trafficking.
Unlike the Conservative government, we will walk the walk and not just make hollow promises when fishing for votes. A Liberal government would also give provinces more money to hire more crown attorneys to speed up trials and to establish organized crime secretariats in every province, similar to Ontario's very successful guns and gangs task force to fight organized crime.
In addition, we will actually fill the judicial vacancies that currently exist across the country. How can the Conservatives claim to be tough on crime when they sit on their hands as judicial vacancies grow and the courts get more and more backlogged by the day? That is not providing justice for Canadians. Justice delayed is justice denied.
There are examples at all court levels of charges being dropped due to unreasonable delays in proceeding to trial. It is not good enough.
While the government has failed to convince Canadians it is capable of doing more than just talking tough on crime, let us turn to Bill C-35.
Bill C-35 would amend the Criminal Code of Canada to provide that the accused will be required to demonstrate, when charged with certain serious offences involving firearms or other regulated weapons, that a pre-trial detention is not justified in their case. These offenders have shown they are a danger to the public simply by using a firearm in the first place. Why should the onus be on a prosecutor to oppose bail being given in light of the serious nature of the crime for which they have been charged? Surely our law-abiding citizens deserve to feel protected from perpetrators of serious crimes.
The bill also introduces two factors relating to such offences that the courts must take into account when deciding whether the accused should be released or detained until the trial. Bill C-35 would require the courts to specifically consider: first, the fact that a firearm was allegedly used in the commission of the offence; and second, the fact that the accused faces a minimum penalty of three years or more imprisonment if convicted.
I strongly support amending the Criminal Code to add this provision. Police officers in my riding support this change, and constituents who simply want safe communities for their families support this change.
In addition, the Liberal opposition supports this change and we have demonstrated that in the House on repeated occasions.
For the fourth time in the past six months, the Liberal opposition this week attempted to get this bill and several other justice bills we are prepared to support, Bill C-18, the DNA identification act, Bill C-22, the age of consent bill, and Bill C-23, criminal procedures, passed without delay through all stages of consideration by the House. Had all members of the government and the NDP agreed, these bills could have cleared the House yesterday and now be on their way to the Senate as we speak. They would have been closer to law and the Liberal proposal would have advanced more than half of the government's entire justice agenda.
That is what my constituents in North Vancouver want. They do not care about politics or the next election. They just want safer communities and results from the minority government. It is too bad the Conservatives are not more interested in getting results than getting headlines.
I support Bill C-35 because I believe that the offences for which it would require a reverse onus for bail provisions are serious and that the bill would help ensure a safer community in North Vancouver.
These offences include any one of the following eight serious offences committed with a firearm: attempted murder, robbery, discharging a firearm with intent, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, kidnapping, hostage taking or extortion.
In addition, the reverse onus provisions will be required for any indictable offence involving firearms or other regulated weapons if committed while under a weapons prohibition order: firearm trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking or firearms smuggling.
I am more than comfortable with a change to the Criminal Code that would require individuals charged with these offences to make the case why they should be back on the streets while awaiting trial. I know citizens in my riding, who are going above and beyond to do their part to create a safe community, such as Block Watch and Citizens on Patrol, would be more than relieved to know there will be less of a chance of encountering individuals charged with such offences.
The government, in its effort to unjustly brand the Liberals as soft on crime, repeatedly attempts to assert that the opposition is opposed to these reverse onus measures as they are not in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While this party's commitment to the charter is unwavering, such an assertion is factually incorrect. It is true that the charter protects the presumption of innocence and the right not to be denied bail without just cause pending trial but within this basic presumption, however, bail can in fact be denied in order to ensure that the accused does not flee from justice, to protect the public if there is a substantial likelihood that the accused will reoffend and to maintain confidence in the administration of justice.
Although the prosecutor usually bears the onus of demonstrating why an accused should be denied bail, there are currently situations where it falls to the accused to demonstrate that detaining him or her is not justified. For example, the onus already shifts to the accused if they are charged with: an indictable offence committed while already released on another indictable offence; if they fail to appear in court or allegedly breach a release condition; for certain organized crime, terrorism or security of information offences; for drug trafficking, smuggling or drug producing offences; and, if they are not ordinarily a resident of Canada.
The Liberal opposition has made repeated efforts to have Bill C-35 fast-tracked through all stages of the House only to be blocked by the government. The Liberal Party's support for measures similar to those found in Bill C-35 go well beyond this debate today and even this 39th Parliament.
I was pleased, as were law enforcement and residents in North Vancouver, with our party's proposals during the last election in support of the reverse onus bail hearings for firearms related offences.
Our position on this issue has not changed. Canadians sent us to Ottawa to work together and that is what the Liberal opposition is attempting to do with our proposal to fast-track Bill C-35 and the three other bills.
The Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act, MITA, from the previous Parliament, will be reintroduced later today as a private member's bill by the Liberal justice critic and the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. I can only hope the government will not block this bill too. The government needs to prove that it is more interested in getting results than headlines.
I will continue to support Bill C-35 and I encourage the minority Conservative government to work with this Parliament, including the Liberal members, and pass these laws that will enhance Canada's Criminal Code and justice system. Families in my riding want these bills passed. Police officers favour these changes and I stand here today to demand that the government listen to Canadians and do the right thing.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
March 23rd, 2007 / 10:10 a.m.
Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, the member asked for my commitment. I certainly will be supporting this bill and will do anything possible on my part to help pass this legislation.
However, I would also remind the hon. member that if he was in the House the other day, the hon. critic for justice brought in a motion to speed up the legislation that I mentioned: Bill C-18, the DNA identification bill that would help police solve many missing persons cases; Bill C-22, the age of consent bill that would have made our children, our sons and daughters, safer; Bill C-23, the criminal procedures bill, a bill that would help to make our justice system more efficient; and Bill C-35, the reverse onus bill that we are debating today.
In fact, if the hon. member were here, he would have noticed that the House leader on the Conservative side raised a point of order not to support that option that we brought in to speed up not only one of those bills, but four of them.
I was in Surrey last month, where the mayor of Surrey along with all the stakeholders put a crime prevention strategy in place. In six months they are much further ahead of where we are today with the Conservative government delaying and playing politics. So, I would ask the hon. member to ask the House leader and his Conservative colleagues to support and get those bills passed so we can protect our streets.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
March 23rd, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for North Vancouver.
It is an honour for me to rise in the House here today to discuss Bill C-35. I cannot understand why my Conservative friends on the other side continue to delay this bill becoming law.
I must point out that the Liberal Party has already gone a long way to putting in place laws to make the jobs of our men and women in uniform easier. I think of legislation like the anti-gangster law.
I would also like to point out that during the 13 years of the previous Liberal administration, we saw crime rates drop by more than 20% in some cases. This bill will only enhance those provisions that the Liberal Party has already provided.
Bill C-35 will make the streets safer by keeping criminals who use guns in prison, instead of out on bail to commit more crimes.
This is a bill I am proud to support and I cannot understand why my Conservative colleagues keep on postponing passage of this legislation.
This bill is designed to change the Criminal Code so that reverse onus will be required if an accused is charged of crimes with a gun. This bill will also be used against those charged with gun trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking or gun smuggling.
I would like to remind the House that it was the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard who brought me into this political arena. In the 2006 election he supported the idea of reverse onus bail hearings for gun related offences. I was proud to support this initiative with him then and I am proud to do so now.
The presumption of innocence and the right not to be denied bail without just cause are rights protected under the Charters of Rights and Freedoms. I firmly believe that this bill is in keeping with the spirit of the charter. It enhances our safety while still respecting our basic rights.
When I talk to people such as Chief Superintendent Fraser MacRae of the Surrey RCMP detachment or Chief Constable Jim Cessford of the Delta police department, I know how important is this legislation. I hear it everywhere from my constituents of Newton—North Delta. These voices from my riding of Newton--North Delta must be heard. It is so important that they be part of the process.
Why is the minority Conservative government not listening? These men and women, the ones on the street keeping us safe every day, are the ones who best understand what is needed to keep our homes, our families and our children safe. We must do all that we can to support them. That is why I am saddened by the cynical partisan games that the government is playing with such important legislation.
The official opposition has tried more than three times in the last six months to speed up many government bills dealing with justice issues. Each time the Conservative Party has shown that they are more interested in politicking than in actually passing their own legislation and making our families safer.
I would remind the House that it was my hon. colleague, the Liberal justice critic, who tabled a motion that proposed the immediate passing of four bills: Bill C-18, Bill C-22, Bill C-23 and Bill C-35, the very bill we are all here still debating today.
If it were not for this cynical government's obstruction, we could have sent all of this legislation to the Senate and put it on the fast track to becoming law. In one swoop we could have passed more than half of the government's entire justice agenda. We could have taken major steps in protecting our families and our communities, but the Conservative House leader raised a point of order to block the Liberal motion and caused more delays in passing serious anti-crime legislation.
Why will the government not take yes for an answer and pass its own legislation for the sake of our safety? The government knows that a majority of MPs in the House of Commons want to pass these bills and the government will just not stop dragging its feet.
The fact that the government is blocking its own legislation proves that it is not serious about crime. It only wants to use these bills as an election issue, not as a way to make our neighbours and communities safer. The Canadian people deserve better. They deserve a government that will not play politics with the Criminal Code.
The late Pierre Trudeau said, “just watch me”. Well, the Canadian people are watching. The people of the riding of Newton—North Delta are watching. The people are watching the government play politics with the safety of our children and families. Canadians and the good people of my riding of Newton—North Delta deserve better. They deserve a government and a leader who will put the safety of our families ahead of politics.
When I look at the justice platform put forward by the hon. Leader of the Opposition, I have hope that the government might also finally get one. The Liberal Party has proposed a new plan, one that would have a major impact on the way we approach safety and justice in our country. It is not enough to simply talk tough on crime and then do nothing as the minority Conservative government has done so far.
We must deal with every aspect of fighting crime on our streets. We must work to prevent crime. We must work to make it easier for our police to catch criminals. When criminals are caught we must work to see them convicted through competent and quick administration. When they are convicted we must work to rehabilitate those criminals, so that when they get out of prison they do not commit more crimes.
I would encourage the government and all members of the Conservative Party to support the legislation and also support the Liberal idea to fast track those bills that I mentioned earlier. I encourage them to support our men and women in uniform who keep our streets safer and to support the official opposition when it has the guts to do what must be done to see this legislation pass to improve our safety and justice system.
We want no more delays, no more partisan politics and tactics, and no more games. Let us get the job done. Canadians are counting on us.
Comments by Government House LeaderPrivilegeOral Questions
March 22nd, 2007 / 3:15 p.m.
Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
I will try a third time, Mr. Speaker, again with respect to House business and further to your ruling yesterday, I wonder if you would seek unanimous consent for the following motion: That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice, Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), be deemed to have been reported without amendment by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, concurred in at the report stage, and read a third time and passed.
March 21st, 2007 / 4:25 p.m.
Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Thank you so much for being here today, Minister, and thank you for your presentation.
As you know from the speeches the Liberals made at second reading of this bill, Bill C-22, and from our Liberal justice strategy, which we announced in October 2006, Bill C-22 is in fact one of the bills the Liberal Party and the Liberal caucus supports. And back in 2006 we offered to fast-track it for the government, to work with the government to see that it was fast-tracked.
I'm pleased to hear in your response to my colleague Brian Murphy that you're delighted that the Liberals are supporting C-22 and that you want to see it come into effect and be enacted as quickly as possible.
So you have obviously been made cognizant of the Liberal opposition day motion, which will be debated tomorrow as part of the supply day for opposition, which makes an offer, for the third time, to this Conservative government that we are prepared to work with the government to have Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification; Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act—on which you're appearing before us right now—Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments); and Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences) deemed to have been considered by the House of Commons at all stages.
So I would hope that, given your delight in hearing that we're prepared to support Bill C-22.... You're not learning of this for the first time, because that was announced back in October 2006. The offer was made back then. Unfortunately, the government only took us up on three bills: C-9, conditional sentencing; Bill C-19, street racing; and Bill C-26, payday loans. But Bills C-18, C-22, and C-23 were part of that offer. You and your government, in its wisdom, decided not to take us up on it in October. The offer was again made when we came back after the Christmas break. The government decided not to take us up on it.
We're now making it for a third time, this time in writing, as part of an actual motion on which you and your colleagues will be called on to vote. I'm hopeful, and I'm asking if you will be prepared to recommend to your Prime Minister, to your colleagues, that they vote in favour of the Liberal opposition day motion, which would deem Bills C-18, DNA identification; C-22, age of protection; C-23, criminal procedures; and C-35, reverse onus for bail hearings, to have been considered by the House at all stages and adopted.
February 27th, 2007 / 9:05 a.m.
Josée Verner ConservativeMinister for la Francophonie and Official Languages
Honourable members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to speak before you today.
Accompanying me are the Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage Judith LaRocque, my colleague the Minister of Defence Gordon O'Connor, and the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier.
We are here to explain the benefits of the new Official Languages Program Transformation Model, after which we can respond to your questions.
I would like to first remind you that as Minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages, I am responsible, on the one hand, for programs of the Department of Canadian Heritage having to do with linguistic duality, and on the other, for coordinating the entire range of federal government activities concerning official languages.
I ensure the overall consistency of our government's efforts on this issue, and I intend to continue providing leadership and showing the way to be taken so that our two official languages have their rightful place in our communities and our federal institutions.
Over the past year, I worked, and I continue to work with my cabinet colleagues to see that linguistic duality is integrated into the process of developing policies and programs.
Counting on my support, my colleagues ensure that the institutions for which they are responsible comply fully with the Official Languages Act. They are accountable before Parliament, they consult with the communities, and they maintain good relations with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
My colleagues and I can also count on the President of the Treasury Board, who plays an important role with regard to official languages within the public service.
As you are aware, our government is firmly committed to promoting our two official languages. For us, linguistic duality is a basic component of our identity. It is an economic, social and cultural asset, both for Canadian society and for our country on the international stage.
During the past year, our government took practical, positive action to carry out our commitment. I too have several achievements to my credit. For example: I signed education agreements with each province and territory, agreements on minority-language services as well as a cooperation agreement with Quebec's English-speaking community. I supported the creation of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario and I took part in efforts to relaunch the Festival franco-ontarien. I provided funding to the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada to organize its 2007 summit. I transferred funds to the city of Ottawa to help it offer French-language services. I worked closely with my colleagues to move forward Bill C-23, which would allow an accused person to receive a hearing by a judge or jury in the official language of his or her choice. I proposed amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act so that official languages requirements will continue to apply under the new structure of Air Canada and its affiliates. With Citizenship and Immigration Minister Monte Solberg, I tabled the Strategic Plan to Foster Immigration to Francophone Minority Communities. Last year, our government eagerly welcomed the new Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser.
With our actions and deeds we have proven, and continue to prove, that we give priority to compliance with the Official Languages Act within all departments, and that includes National Defence and Canadian Forces.
I will even go further and say that our intention is to ensure that all civilian and military employees of the department are led, trained, managed and supported in the language of their choice when and where the act requires this.
The former Commissioner of Official Languages, Dyane Adam, noted on many occasions that during the past few years the Department of National Defence has had difficulty creating a work environment in which employees, both civilian and military, can use the official language of their choice. The former universal model failed to address all areas for the Canadian Forces to be completely compliant with the Official Languages Act. Dyane Adam acknowledged it. We acknowledged it.
Moreover, the new Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, is concerned that this approach did not provide the expected results. When we come to this conclusion, it's time to change course.
This is why l was happy to see that after having learned about the analysis and recommendations of the former commissioner, my colleague Minister O'Connor has taken real, concrete action. Thanks to his leadership, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces are putting forward a functional approach that will better accommodate their operational structure, while paving the way for these organizations to be fully compliant with the Official Languages Act.
Contrary to the current widely held impression, this change does not amount to an acceptance of defeat. Instead, we are taking action so that the provisions of the act are genuinely put into practice. The new model not only takes into account the recommendations in the former commissioner's report, but it meets the requirements of the act.
We are in the process of acquiring the tools to make a real difference for anglophones and francophones at National Defence and in the Canadian Forces.
I am following these efforts closely, and I am pleased to be able to work with the Commissioner of Official Languages to promote this invaluable treasure and asset—Canada's dual heritage of English and French. I had the opportunity to discuss this topic with Commissioner Fraser a few weeks ago, and I know that he is giving his full attention to the issue.
We will be able to meet him when he appears before the committee in March. The commissioner has expressed interest in the new transformation model. Like myself, he is awaiting the outcome of this initiative, which has the benefit of being innovative, concrete and focused on the future.
I can assure you that our government will take the commissioner's recommendations into account, and that Minister O'Connor and I will study those recommendations carefully.
I would like to conclude by assuring you that I will give my support to Minister O'Connor and to all those who feel strongly about the future of linguistic duality within the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces, and the Government of Canada.
I will now give the floor to Minister O'Connor, who will go into greater detail about the Official Languages Program Transformation Model. After that I will respond to your questions.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
February 5th, 2007 / 1:25 p.m.
Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate).
The bill was reported back to the House from committee on December 13. It very seldom happens that a bill is reported back without amendments. That shows what can happen when there is strong cooperation between the parties. Actually this is one of six bills the official opposition has called upon the government to work with all parties to pass as soon as possible.
We believe with just a little more cooperation, especially from the government, that in addition to Bill C-26, the following bills could be reported back to the House: Bill C-9, which would restrict the use of conditional sentences; Bill C-18, which would strengthen the DNA data bank; Bill C-19, which would amend the Criminal Code on street racing; Bill C-23, which would amend the Criminal Code and criminal procedure in languages of the accused and sentencing, in other words, update Canada's Criminal Code; and Bill C-22, which would amend the Criminal Code with respect to age of protection, with the importance of protecting children. We believe with a little more cooperation from the government, we could in fact be getting those six bills approved in the House.
In summary, Bill C-26 amends the Criminal Code of Canada to exempt payday lenders who operate in provinces and territories having measures in place to protect borrowers from the application of section 347 of the Criminal Code of Canada, and require jurisdictions that regulate the industry to place limits on the cost to consumers of payday borrowing.
To a great extent a lot of work was done on this bill by previous ministers of industry and justice. A lot of work has gone on with the provinces and territories to get the kind of collaboration needed to put forward this bill in the House of Commons. I congratulate all the folks, including members of the government, who were involved in those discussions to get us where we are at today.
There is certainly a need to ensure consumers that usury interest rates are not allowed in this country. There is no question that there is a lot of authority in the Criminal Code of Canada under section 347 to lay criminal charges for usurious interest rates. Section 347 makes it a criminal offence to charge more than 60% per annum.
As we all know, some payday loan companies have charged far in excess of that rate. In fact, we have heard of outrageous interest charges, when compounded and fees are added, in excess of 1,200% per annum, yet no charges under section 347 to payday loan companies have been made.
Yes, the concern is there, but the payday loan business is a little more complicated jurisdictionally, and I would say on an individual need basis, more than meets the eye. Jurisdictionally payday loan operations are considered to be commercial businesses. They are not banks, although I think many people believe they are. As commercial businesses, to a great extent they fall under provincial jurisdiction.
My colleague, the MP for Scarborough—Rouge River, explained it. I want to quote from his remarks in the House because he gave best explanation on this point:
We are going to keep a Criminal Code provision, but we are going to allow an exemption for a lawful business that lends money using this payday loan mechanism. The exemption will be based on the premise that a province or a territory is regulating the commercial operation.
He went on to say:
Placing this amendment with section 347, will allow the provinces to assume their proper jurisdiction in the regulation of the commercial affairs of their citizens. However, at the same time, we maintain the criminal prohibition with the 60% per annum cap where there is no provincial regulation. We are assuming that a province will provide a form of regulation that will essentially keep the same level of protection the consumers have had up to now.
It is important to mention that because it explains the jurisdictional problem and the difference between the commercialization as a business.
Therefore, the bill does cover off the jurisdictional question under clause 2 by the person being licensed by the province to enter into the agreement, and second, the province has been designated by the governor in council or cabinet under the proposed new section 347.1.3.
On an individual need basis, it is obvious from the demand for transactions, estimated to be $1.3 billion or more, and in fact the parliamentary secretary said it is as high as $2 billion now, and also the increase of payday loan companies that are estimated to be over 1,300. It is obvious from these shocking figures that individual Canadians have an urgent need for short term cash for whatever reason.
Yes, I recognize the amounts are in the low hundreds of dollars, but the cost, as others have said before me, are very high.
Mr. Jenkin with the Department of Industry, who was a witness before committee, indicated:
It's a form of short-term lending through which the consumer typically borrows several hundred dollars for 10 days to two weeks. The borrowing costs are very high, as you probably know. They are usually in the range of, for example, $40 to $75 for a $300 loan for two weeks or less.
I must emphasize that while I support the bill as a way to improve the situation for people who are in need of immediate cash, I still am worried about the impact of the financial strain on individuals. There is no question in my mind that the individuals who are basically forced to use these services are the ones who can least afford to pay these high fees. Maybe they need the dollars to provide food, buy groceries for the family. Maybe they need the dollars for a medical bill or maybe they even need the dollars to pay the minimum payment on a high interest bearing credit card.
Whatever the reason, there is clearly a problem out there that needs to be addressed beyond this bill. I certainly would advise the government and others that we really need to be doing as a country, both at the provincial and federal level, some research into the social or economic reason why people think they are forced to go to these services for those kinds of money. They are the people who can least afford it and I believe that needs to be looks into and addressed.
The bottom line is that we are in favour of this bill. We do believe it is a step in the right direction However, there are other underlying causes that we need to recognize are out there in a social and economic sense and issues that really affect people in their daily lives that forces them to use these services. That is the worrisome point.
The bill is good but I believe the House and the government need to look at the underlying causes of the need to use these services more so.
December 6th, 2006 / 4 p.m.
Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, like the hon. House leader, I had the opportunity and privilege of participating in the debate on the question of the adoption of the law permitting marriage of same sex couples last year.
I say the privilege because I was proud to participate in that debate. It was a serious debate, as the hon. House leader has suggested. While it was an emotional debate, members treated one another with respect, even those who disagreed with one another profoundly on religious grounds or in other ways. In many ways, the debate in the House last time was Parliament at its best.
I will always remember, for example, how the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie put it, as repeated today by the hon. member for Hochelaga: “—the religion of some should not become the law for others”.
However, as I listened to the House leader today, I respectfully suggest to the House leader that this motion is different. This is an underhanded political manoeuvre. Is the House leader proud of the headline of the Globe and Mail editorial this morning? “[Prime Minister]'s shoddy motion” is what the Globe and Mail editorial called what we are being asked to debate today in this House.
The government does not even want a real debate. It is not giving enough time. It has introduced the idea of civil unions, which as it knows is exclusively a provincial matter. It is a smokescreen. It says it is not trying to re-establish the very inequality that was struck down by our courts.
As the member for Wascana has pointed out, this is purely a procedural motion. It is a debate about whether ultimately we should have a debate. If the government wanted to take this matter seriously, it would have introduced legislation, but it knows the composition of this House and it knows such legislation would never be passed by this House.
Instead, it resorted to a manoeuvre that takes us nowhere. It is not designed to take us anywhere. It is designed to divide the House, to divide the members of the House, and divide the Canadian population on an issue that has been settled. It is designed to divide our nation on an issue that a majority of Canadians wish to move on from.
Everyone in the House knows that the courts have upheld this across the country, including the Supreme Court of Canada, eight provinces and territories. I will not name them, but I respectfully disagree with the hon. House leader. It is not true that the Supreme Court of Canada did not rule on this matter. The Supreme Court of Canada specifically said in its judgment that it would not, in any way, pronounce on the matter in a way that would overrule the findings of the lower courts, and those findings were conclusively in favour of overturning the prohibition against same sex marriage, as everybody knows.
I praise the government for saying it will not use the notwithstanding clause. I say to the hon. House leader that I hope that is an undertaking that the government is making, whether it is in opposition or in the future at any time, that it would never introduce such a bill by using this notwithstanding clause. However, without the notwithstanding clause, as everyone has pointed out, this same sex debate we are having today is, in the words of the columnists and the editorial writers such as Jeffrey Simpson of The Globe and Mail, “a meaningless charade”.
However, that said, let us take up the challenge. Let us remind ourselves of why we voted as we did the last time. Let us remind ourselves of our charter. Let us remind ourselves of the debates that we had in this House when we first introduced changes to the Criminal Code to protect gay and lesbian couples from being attacked on our streets, when we introduced the human rights code changes which ensured there would not be discrimination, and when we went on to ensure that people could get their pension rights and be treated equally if they had the same status as heterosexual couples that had civil unions.
What we saw throughout the country and through this House was a movement. We saw an evolving sense of our human rights and it came from our constituents as well, not just gay and lesbian constituents but from straight constituents, from all races and all religions. They came to us and came to a conclusion that society was enriched ultimately by treating all citizens equally.
I remember years ago learning that a certain newspaper in Toronto, which I would not describe as a left-wing newspaper, had a policy that it would pay equal amounts to people who had same sex unions because it wanted to attract the best possible employees.
This is not just about equality. This is about creating a society which will be a richer society when everybody can participate in it and feel equal in it.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister avoided answering the question of the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora, who wanted to know whether he thought that our society or the institution of marriage had suffered from the legislation permitting same sex marriage. It is the same question just asked by our colleague in the NDP.
I would like to suggest that the Prime Minister and his hon. members, who do not seem to understand the realities of the modern world in which we live, should go and take part in the gay pride parade in my city of Toronto, or elsewhere in the country.
To their great surprise, they would find grandmothers and children of all ethnic groups and representatives of multicultural organizations from all over participating enthusiastically. Why do they do this? They are taking part in something that celebrates our humanity, tolerance, respect for other people and ability to understand one another.
Some members of this House think that same sex marriage spells the end of society as we know it, that it shakes society to its core. I say to these hon. members that they should ask the Canadians who take their children to gay pride parades and deliberately put them in contact with this modern reality what they think of this celebration of our common humanity.
I have been a parliamentarian for many years and have followed all the debates about recognizing the rights of gays and lesbians, including amendments to the Criminal Code, to the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to Bill C-23, which gave equal rights to common-law spouses and entitled them to pensions. Some participants in these debates painted the most apocalyptic scenarios for our society, our children and the institution of marriage.
Far removed from all dogma, I believe personally that we should follow this debate with humanity and compassion, animated by a spirit of openness, inclusion and respect and with tremendous confidence in humanity’s ability to make changes to society out of deep respect for our differences. We should ponder the lessons of history. The same fears, the same dire scenarios were conjured up when interracial marriages were allowed in the United States or the Divorce Act was passed in Canada not so very long ago. We all remember that.
Our country’s history clearly shows that in the face of profound sociological change, Parliament has often crystallized the irreversible changes already seen in society, but has never jumped the gun. Parliament has always been able to adapt to deep-seated new movements in our society.
I will therefore in all humility as a parliamentarian and legislator be guided by the wisdom, tolerance and confidence expressed by our forefathers and foremothers who said yes to social progress and no to all the apocalyptic scenarios conjured up. I can only humble encourage all my parliamentary colleagues to do the same and recognize not only this reality but also the fact that Canadians accept it.
Times have changed and we must move on. The House has moved on and the country has moved on. Under the present law, religious institutions are protected while all others are included.
We join countries like the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and others. Let us think of South Africa and imagine the example this would send to a country like South Africa if we were to reverse ourselves on the fundamental principle of human rights. Why would this country, a beacon to others around the world on human rights, reverse itself and go backward in time? What kind of an example would that be to South Africa and dozens of other countries that are looking to us as an example?
Let us solemnly undertake in the House today that we have debated this issue and that we will move on. I respectfully ask the Prime Minister, his party and his colleagues in his caucus to promise this House and this country that this will be the last time, that this is not just a strategy for another election issue, that they will not inflict this agony on gay and lesbian Canadians, and that they will tell them that this will end and that our social cohesion will no longer be roiled by threats to the droits acquis once and for all.
A week ago Monday, this House voted on a motion about our country and we all spoke movingly about our country. We voted in that debate and at the end of that debate we voted to be inclusive.
I remember the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie speaking with great emotion about how her identities as a Quebecker and a Canadian fit perfectly together.
Many others have spoken in the same vein saying that their identity as Quebeckers and their identity as Canadians are perfectly in harmony. We should ask ourselves whether after tomorrow's vote the gay and lesbian communities will be able to say the same? Will they say that their personal identity and their national identity are compatible and even complementary? Will they be proud to be both and proud to play a role in our society? If they feel anything less than that and less than their fellow citizens, I believe we will have failed our constituents, our country and future generations of Canadians who are asking us to continue to create this country as a place where we live with one another in respect and tolerance and show a light to the rest of the world which will enable them and us to move on to other issues of importance and move away from the traditional, I say hatreds, the traditional fears of the past. Let us move on from the past and let us move to the future in a way that is Canadian and in a way that is respectful to our charter and of our fellow citizens.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
October 31st, 2006 / 3:15 p.m.
Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC
Mr. Speaker, I will begin today by talking a bit about the theory of criminal justice and how we get tough on crime, which is the slogan often used by those across the way.
We cannot get tough on crime without being smart on crime and that means not just descending into slogans, such as “getting tough on crime”, “war on crime” and “three strikes you're out”. We know where that rhetoric comes from and we know that it is based on false analysis. It is based on ideology and sloganism, not on criminological research, social research or demographics which all gives serious concern to knee-jerk, superficial stoking of the fears in society about a situation that may not exist. That is done for purposes that are ideological and polemical and they carry a real danger of being self-fulfilling.
I would like to take a few minutes to speak about how being tough on crime means being smart on crime first.
Let us just take the 12 bills dealing with criminal justice that are before this House and the one that is before the other place. The official opposition has offered this week to cooperate and fast track eight out of the eleven of those bills, and I will speak to the other two in a moment, but that is in no way doing anything but making this place work with sensible dialogue and debate over how to, without holding up any of these bills, ensure they are not more dangerous than what we are to believe they are to protect us against.
We have offered to fast track Bill C-9, the conditional sentencing bill. It has had serious debate and an appropriate amendment was moved by opposition parties so it can now go ahead. We will give it all the speed it needs.
We will fast track Bill C-18, the DNA identification act; Bill C-19, street racing; Bill C-23, criminal procedure improvements; and Bill C-26, payday loans. I would pause to say that five out of the six bills that I have just mentioned were actually initiated under the previous Liberal government. They will go forward with our support and with sensible amendments where necessary. We will fast track two other bills.
We opposed the judicial salaries bill because we opposed the suggestion by the government that it disregard the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission which recommended appropriate increases for judges' salaries over the last four year period. While we opposed that, we allowed it to pass on division so there would be no slowing up of that process.
The 13th bill is Bill S-3, the military sex offender act, which is now before the other place. We will be supporting that bill and are willing to fast track it in every way we can.
In the context of discussing the dangerous offender legislation, it is important to underline the cooperation that is going on in the House to identify what is important, to carry on work that was done by the previous government and to get some of these things moved ahead.
However, Bill C-27 is of a different order. The dangerous offender legislation before us has some major flaws that I will speak about but I would first say that we need a reality check. Let us take a reality check first on the criminal conviction statistics in Canada which have been steadily coming down over the last 10 to 15 years. That is what the research tells us. The demographics themselves in society are leading through analysis to that decline in the crime rate. While we may raise the fears of the public to justify simplistic solutions through sloganeering and superficial claims to put fear in the hearts of Canadians, the crime rate comes down.
Let us take another reality check on the situation in the U.S. where these slogans come from and much of this legislation seems to be patterned after. The United States has the highest crime rates and incarceration rates. It also has the most dangerous communities and the most expensive criminal justice system.
If we are to follow any model in the world when we amend our criminal justice statutes, we certainly do not want to follow the so-called war on crime in the United States.
Let me pause to mention that the state of California spends more on criminal justice and corrections than it spends on education. That should be very edifying to all of us.
Let me give another example about the folly of pretending that just by putting people in jail on very restrictive terms without any adjustment for the context of a particular case can be more dangerous for society. Most convicted people, dangerous or not, will get out. We have the Bernardos and some of the most horrid criminals in our country's history who will be behind bars, blessedly, forever, but most criminals will get out.
Let us think of those people who go into a prison situation, which members opposite would like to see everyone go into. It is a bit of an irony to consider that prison life, if that is what we can call it, prison for life, is the place in society which should be the most protected but is in fact the place where one is most likely to be assaulted, raped, infected and injected, and these people will come out.
Therefore, we need to take particular care for the correctional services, the proper services within them and who we put behind bars and for how long.
Let me speak about the fact that 25% of the prison population in this country is made up of aboriginal people. This is a stunning statistic of despair. Can this be the result of a fair criminal justice system or is this a result of despair in aboriginal communities? Is it part of the despair of our prevention system and our criminal justice system of preventative crime? Is it a matter of racism in society? What is happening?
These are the underpinning questions that we must be asking ourselves in the House as we respond to the reality of the criminal justice system. This is 1% of the population and 25% of the prison population.
Let us ensure that when people do come out of prison, if they are going to be spending time there, that they have been rehabilitated and they are safe to society because the vast majority will come out.
We will not ensure that the context of the situation is properly taken into account in peculiar circumstances unless police officers, prosecutors, judges, correctional officers and parole officers have the discretion to identify where the dangers are and where someone may have a better response to a criminal justice sanction than simply putting someone in jail for an indefinite period.
Turning to Bill C-27, the dangerous offender legislation, the member opposite has mentioned that there is dangerous offender legislation on the books now and it is operating. It operates as a companion with long term offender legislation which can kick in. Prosecutors have the discretion to bring forward at sentencing applications before a judge for a long term offender or a dangerous offender designation. That works. It has been covered by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Lyons and Johnson cases in 1997 and 2002. It has been found to be constitutionally appropriate. I would suggest that it is working because it allows for all the proper discretions to be exercised.
The problem with what is being suggested in Bill C-27, and it has been referred to by numerous members of the House, is the reverse onus provision at sentencing after a third conviction of a certain type of very serious crime.
We have heard some people say that this offends the presumption of innocence, which is an historical criminal law principle in our legal system. However, the trouble is not with the presumption of innocence, which is subsection 11(d) of the charter. The question is about the reverse onus of the burden. This is not a conviction matter. It is not a presumption of innocence because the person has already been convicted for the third time.
What we are talking about is whether fundamental justice, in reversing the onus on such an extraordinary punishment, can meet the tests under section 7 of the charter for fundamental justice. There is strong authority that this simply cannot be done. This does not meet the tests of fundamental justice. It involves, for instance, the convicted person proving a negative into the future. Yes, it is on the balance of probabilities and, yes, as the member opposite said, there is judicial discretion to determine whether that onus is met or not, but there is still a reverse onus and, in many cases, it is an impossible burden to attempt to prove a negative into the future.
It is also a problem because it offends section 7 as being against the principles of fundamental justice and it is a problem under section 1 as to whether this is a justifiable limit on the rights under the charter. Is it a substantive need? Is it a rational connection? Is there minimal impairment? I would say that under all those cases this reverse onus does not meet the test. This is highly constitutionally suspect. Why, when we have a provision that is working well, would we want to throw ourselves into very likely years of constitutional charter litigation when we have charter compliant provisions now for dangerous and long term offenders?
We also have a problem that this will not be enforceable. This is ultra vires of the federal government to tell the provincial governments, which are responsible for the administration of criminal justice, who they should prosecute and what sentences they should ask for. That simply cannot be supported in our constitutional division of powers and, therefore, it is inappropriate for the government to put this forward.
There are also dangerous unintended consequences that could come to the fore here. We have long delays in our criminal justice system today. A report in the paper last week showed that in the province of Ontario 100,000 charges have gone beyond the nine months before they actually go to trial. This is bouncing very perilously close up against the Supreme Court of Canada Askov decision where all members will remember with regret that 30,000 criminal cases were dismissed because it took too long for people to get to trial.
If people are facing this so-called simplistic, superficial three strikes and they are out law, which has been so disastrously unsuccessful and dangerous in the United States, they will insist on going to trial more often. There will be less guilty pleas which will cause further delays in the courts and perhaps more cases will be thrown out because of charter violations.
The one side of it is that there will be more trials, longer delays and more costs to the prison system. I have not even begun to talk about the hundreds of millions of dollars in capital costs that will be required to build the prisons that will hold these long term offenders.
Costs will be going up, delays will be longer and cases will be thrown out for charter violations because of delay. The other dynamic that may happen and where prosecutors, with long dockets and not wanting to have further delays in trials, may charge people with lesser offences than would otherwise justify a conviction for a more serious case that may give them a longer prison term, or the convicted person may plea bargain to a lesser offence.
Both of those dynamics are more likely to put dangerous people on the streets and put in danger the men and women the member opposite was just speaking about. We have to be very careful when we tinker with these laws, especially if we are doing it superficially and against the evidence of criminologists and social scientists as to what is effective and what is not.
Let us turn for a moment to what being tough on crime by being smart on crime really means. It means a national crime prevention strategy, such as the one the previous government put into place across this country over a period of 13 years, funded in a very targeted way, to help kids have things to do after school. If I may indulge myself in a short phrase, it is about shooting hoops, not drugs. There are sports programs across this country in the evening and even far into the night where kids who otherwise would have been getting in trouble are involved in healthy activity.
We have to watch for issues of poverty and cultural exclusion.
We have to look at the issue of legal aid, which is in underfunded disrepair across this country, thus involving people in perhaps building up criminal records when they should have been having trials and pleading not guilty. They are pleading guilty because they cannot defend themselves in the courts without assistance.
We have to look at issues of homelessness. We have to look at issues of mental illness. The Kirby-Keon Senate report was an extraordinary statement of sound thinking about how to deal with those with mental illnesses, who unfortunately fall into the ranks of the homeless as well as the ranks of the criminal justice system, which is the worst place for them to be. We have to rethink this and meet our social contract around the concept of deinstitutionalization, whereby governments emptied the mental hospitals but then did not provide services in the community to support people.
We have to look at drug courts. They are operating in Toronto and Vancouver and in numerous American states. That is one example of where the American criminal justice system has actually been a stunning success at diverting people out of the criminal system if they will go into detox and treatment.
We have to look at issues of harm reduction. Drugs, addiction and substance abuse are great parts of the despair that leads people into the criminal justice system. Harm reduction, of course, involves needle exchanges and safe injection sites, which the government has failed to guarantee would be extended in Vancouver, when it has been an example for literally the world to consider the effectiveness of harm reduction in that situation, to help motivate people into detox.
We need shelters for them. We need transitional housing. We need skills training. We need affordable housing. We need jobs. In fact, the social enterprise initiatives of the last Liberal government, which were ready to go across this country, certainly in my province of British Columbia, were cancelled by the current government in its last budget. Those are the things that can assist people to not fall into crime and into despair, which leads them to become dangerous for other members of society.
What are we going to do instead? We are going to dismantle the gun registry. It is amazing that any thought could be given to that at this stage after the tragedy at Dawson College in Montreal.
We have a Prime Minister who will not go to an international AIDS conference in Toronto. We have a Prime Minister who did not go to a world conference on harm reduction in Vancouver last April.
We are simply looking in the wrong direction. We have to be tough on crime, I agree with all members opposite, but we are going to be tough on crime by being smart on crime and not by being simply superficial and using slogans.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
October 30th, 2006 / 1:40 p.m.
Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-22. I am also very aware that all the justice critics need to be in committee for clause by clause of another justice bill right after this, so I am going to truncate my remarks to help get all the right people in the room who need to be there shortly after question period.
I will say at the outset that our party will support the bill. In doing so, we are following up on work that has gone on over a number of years. The Speech from the Throne of October 5, 2004 committed the government to cracking down on child pornography. Similarly, in the previous Speech from the Throne, the former Liberal government committed to reinstating former Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.
The bill was reinstated on February 12, 2004 as Bill C-12. It was awaiting second reading in the Senate at the time of that Parliament's dissolution for a federal election. In June 2004 the then prime minister reiterated support for reintroduction of the package as the first legislative item in the new Parliament. I know that the former minister of justice, the hon. member for Mount Royal, introduced in the former Parliament Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act. It received third reading on June 9, 2005, royal assent on July 20, 2005, and came into force in its entirety less than a year ago, on January 2, 2006. Bill C-2, then, is built on reforms previously proposed in the former Bill C-12 and proposed reforms in five key areas.
I might reiterate, too, that former Bill C-12, by a procedural motion, a hoist motion, from the then opposition Conservative Party, was prevented from going forward a couple of years earlier.
Be that as it may, when I hear the Minister of Justice incorrectly saying that nothing was done, I have to put on the record that we did strengthen prohibitions against child pornography.
We broadened the definition of child pornography to include audio formats as well as written material “that has, as its predominant characteristic, the description of prohibited sexual activity” with children “where that description is provided for a sexual purpose“. We prohibited advertising child pornography, increasing the maximum sentences and making a number of offences have more bite.
We wanted to protect young persons against sexual exploitation. One of the things that I like in Bill C-22 is that the government has not disposed of that section that was so important, the section that talked about the exploitation of children. It had prohibited sexual activity with young persons between 14 and 18. Under Bill C-2, a court would be directed to “infer that a relationship is exploitative of the young person based on its nature and circumstances, including the age of the young person, any difference of age, the evolution of the relationship, and the degree of control or influence exercised over the young person”.
Consistent with the existing criminal law treatment of sexual assault, that bill focused on the offending conduct of the accused rather than just on the young person's consent to that conduct. That was always the concern, that it was not just an age number, because the age of 14 has been in the Criminal Code and utilized since the late 1800s. It was the “exploitative” nature, and I am pleased that the bill keeps this, because that helps in our being able to come forward with our consent today.
We did increase the penalties for offences against children.
We facilitated testimony not only for child victims and witnesses under 18 years but for other vulnerable victims and witnesses. This is procedural, to help stop re-victimization in the court process.
We created a new voyeurism offence. Today we have those cameras that take pictures; that is why we needed this.
In 2002 we also created the offence of Internet luring under section 172.1 of the Criminal Code. That prohibited the use of a computer system, including the Internet, to communicate with a young person for the purpose of committing a sexual assault against that person. It can and is being successfully charged, irrespective of whether a sexual assault actually took place. The fact of the offending conduct of trying to lure a child via a computer system is what we were getting at and it is there.
Also, just a few weeks back, a private member's bill on increasing sentences passed in the House.
Today's Bill C-22 is an improvement over former private members' bills, no matter how good the intention was. The fact is that now this bill has the five year close in age exception and that will go a long way, I think, in helping us to accept this bill and give our consent to it.
In fact, in our Liberal justice plan announced last week, this was one of the bills that we said would be put forward and given consent by our party, along with the other bills of conditional sentencing and imprisonment, as amended in committee, such as: Bill C-9; Bill C-18, an act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification; Bill C-19, an act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act; Bill C-23, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments); and Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate), which was debated in the House last week under the topic of payday loans.
We on this side will add Bill C-22 to that list of bills. There are about 11 government justice bills. This one makes six that the Liberals are prepared to move forward in the Liberal justice plan, although we do not think that these bills are universally perfect. But we could find flaws with all pieces of legislation in the House. There are sections in this bill to do with unconstitutional areas of the Criminal Code, which we could have fixed. The justice minister has chosen not to do that, but at this stage I think the protection of children should be our utmost priority.
Listening in the chamber today was one of the good police officers who has to work in this area. He was kind enough to give some Liberal members a briefing. Unfortunately, his colleague from the federal police services was not allowed to do that, for reasons unknown.
On this side of the House, we as the official opposition are prepared to support this bill. I am prepared now to move on and give my time so that critics from the other parties can all be present in the justice committee for voting measures later this afternoon on another piece of legislation. There is unequivocal support here for Bill C-22.
Business of the HouseOral Questions
October 27th, 2006 / noon
Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK
Mr. Speaker, in light of what the government House leader said just a few moments ago, I wonder if you could see if there is unanimous consent in the House at this moment for the following motion: That Bill C-9 be deemed to have been concurred in at report stage, read a third time and passed; that Bills C-18, C-19 and C-23 be deemed to have been reported from committee, without amendments, concurred in at the report stage, read a third time and passed; and that Bills,C-22 and C-26 be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to and reported from committee without amendments, concurred in at report stage, read a third time and passed.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
October 16th, 2006 / 3:25 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-23 which is before Parliament today.
I am going to read the title of Bill C-23 for the benefit of the members of the public listening to us. Bill C-23 is an Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments).
Our party, the Bloc Québécois, takes a favourable view of this bill, because it amounts to a broad set of changes to revise and modernize the Criminal Code. That is the objective. It is in response to a broad consultation undertaken by the Department of Justice involving Crown counsel and police services in every province, the public service, and federal and provincial justice departments. As I said, it is an instrument for revising and modernizing the code. Given that this balance has been achieved by the various specialized players in the justice system, the Bloc Québécois supports these amendments.
Among the excellent things that Bill C-23 will do are to clarify the provisions of the Criminal Code, simplify certain judicial proceedings such as improper appeals and clear up unintended meanings to mention but a few.
The Bloc is particularly pleased with the amendments that will help to improve the work of the judiciary by giving judges greater discretion. The public must understand that this bill comes after negotiations and discussions that were undertaken, in part, by the previous government and at the request of stakeholders in the justice system: Crown counsel, police services and officials of various government departments. Why is there a balanced position in this bill? It is not the right-wing, Conservative position being imposed on us by this government. Other bills brought forward by the current Minister of Justice will in fact reflect Conservative ideology.
The bill that is before us now is a bill that was originated largely with stakeholders in the justice system from all provinces of Canada, from the public service and from the various departments of justice. It is therefore a much more balanced position. One of the things it will do is provide judges with better tools for doing their job properly, that job being to determine the most appropriate sentence, the sentence that will best serve the objectives of deterrence, reparation and rehabilitation—a factor too often forgotten by the Conservative government.
The bill that is before us has passed through the mill of the justice system and its stakeholders, and this has produced a balanced bill. That is not the case for the bills introduced by the Conservative government that reflect a Conservative and Republican ideology modeled on American positions. That is what the Conservative government is getting us accustomed to and will get us accustomed to in upcoming justice-related bills to be introduced in this House, with the exception of this one, Bill C-23. This bill comes to us from the previous Parliament. It is therefore a bill that the government has taken over from the previous government and that was supported by the Bloc Québécois during the previous Parliament.
For those of us in the Bloc Québécois, improvement of the law is consistent with efficiency. Adapting our legislative structures to new technology and new situations should be a continuing concern for all lawmakers. The men and women who belong to this magnificent party called the Bloc Québécois believe we must continually modernize our laws to apply them to new technology. The Criminal Code, among others, calls for this type of updating. People see new technology in their own homes. In this House, the members of the Bloc Québécois say to the government it is time to adapt new technologies to be in a position to use them in criminal investigations carried out by various police forces in Quebec.
Advances in terms of information technology, along with the changing values of Quebeckers, must be reflected in our legislation.
The obvious message is that the values of Quebeckers are changing and our laws must change as well. Among other changes, new technology must be integrated into the judicial system.
In addition, the Bloc Québécois believes that such revisions should be done on a regular basis. Too often, the government puts off these amendments or revisions. Or, we have to wait for a right-wing conservative government with republican values and ideologies borrowed from the Americans to make changes.
The best way to protect against that, in the opinion of the men and women of the Bloc Québécois, is to regularly revise the Criminal Code so that it is always balanced legislation and so that we do not allow political parties with ideological values of the republican right to impose their changes. Let us establish a regular process for amending the Criminal Code to adapt it to new technology and to new values that we ourselves can defend. Bill C-23 is among those new values.
I will now deal with this measure in greater detail. Although it sometimes appears a bit technical this is really a worthwhile bill, considering that it has been called for by different stakeholders in the legal community, from crown attorneys to police services, and various officials in the Quebec justice department and other provinces as well. Still, it is somewhat technical.
One of the amendments is a harmonization of procedures for service of documents. The first clause of Bill C-23 would provide that the service of documents may be proved in accordance with the laws of a province relating to offences created by the laws of that province. As a consequence, the bill deletes several sections of the Criminal Code that now set out methods for proof of service. These deletions would harmonize criminal procedures in terms of proof of service.
This is simply to say that provincial methods for proof of service have evolved with new technology, something that has not been done by the federal government.
We, in the Bloc Québécois, therefore ask the federal government to allow the provinces, who are quicker to harmonize and to follow the changes in technology, to act and to remove itself from this manner of proof of service. That is what is now being done with Bill C-23. It will fall into line with the methods for proof of service that are in effect in the different provinces.
The second amendment extends the application of the court order. Clause 4 of the bill amends section 164.2(1) of the Criminal Code. It gives the court, in addition to the existing power to seize material used for child pornography, the power to order the forfeiture of the computer of a person convicted of luring a child under section 172(1) of the Criminal Code, and to dispose of it.
Simply put, luring a child is a crime that consists in communicating with children in discussion forums, through instant messaging or electronic mail, for the purpose of sexual contacts.
Since we already have the power to seize pornographic material, it goes without saying that this bill should also allow us to seize the technology in which this material is stored. So, this is an improvement.
I should point out for the benefit of those young men and women who are watching us that we do not always pass laws to punish people, or to prevent them from doing things. All too often, members of Parliament are perceived as legislators who prevent people from having fun. On the contrary, we want people to have fun, but in a safe way. Unfortunately, all too often, the Internet and this whole new technology are used by sexual predators who try to corrupt our young generation.
I hope people realize that the men and women who form this great political party, namely the Bloc Québécois, are here to protect the public interest. We want people to have fun using the Internet and all the other electronic gadgets available, but we want them to do so safely, so that our children will not be corrupted or led to commit illegal or criminal acts, and so that we can punish the individuals who commit such crimes, by forfeiting all the material they use to do such deeds.
The purpose of the third amendment is to reflect the new communication technologies. Clause 6 of the bill amends section 204(2) of the Criminal Code, dealing with gaming and betting. It amends the Criminal Code to include new communication technologies, such as the Internet, since the existing section does not provide for any means of communication other than the telephone.
Bill C-23 would opt for a much less restrictive definition that would include all possible means under the term “means of telecommunication”. Hence, bets placed over the Internet with the race-course, an association or a betting theatre, in accordance with the regulations, would be deemed to have been made at the race-course and would not be treated as an indictable offence.
This measure is included to liberalize the industry's means of doing business so that the actions of those who might place bets by Internet directly with the race-courses are not considered indictable offences.
This does not mean that those who place illegal bets are authorized to do so. It remains against the law to place such bets. The Bloc Québécois members will always be there to prevent some people from getting rich at the expense of the weakest and most disadvantaged members of our society. We will always stand up for the latter. However, those who have licences and are authorized by the law to make these types of bets, those who enjoying betting, may place bets over the Internet with organizations who have the right to do so and have the requisite permits. These individuals may use the Internet to place bets. It could not be done previously. You could place bets by phone but not by Internet.
Judges have more latitude in terms of sentencing and timing. That is the fifth amendment. Several sections of Bill C-23 seek to give judges more flexibility when handing down sentences. This is the case of clause 8.2 of Bill C-23 which permits a judge to make an order against an individual found guilty of a designated crime, for example manslaughter, to prohibit the offender from operating a motor vehicle during any period deemed appropriate.
Previously, the judge could not impose this condition unless the offender were sentenced to life imprisonment. It is important to point out that the judge can only impose this new condition when the accused is found guilty of an offence punishable by life imprisonment.
Once again, as mentioned earlier, judges ought to be given some latitude. We have set up an entire judiciary system and asked magistrates and judges to make laws. In fact, we are the ones passing legislation while judges set sentences. In our wisdom, we have put them in charge of that. This was done by our predecessors in this House. Such is the judiciary system that was established. Essentially, decision makers and legislators before us created a judicial system based on legislation contained in the Criminal Code, the enforcement of which was put in the hands of the judiciary, which means competent human beings responsible for making balanced decisions, that is, to make the punishment fit the crime.
It is therefore important to be able to assist them in their task and to allow them to rely increasingly on their wisdom and insight. Indeed, each crime is unique and no two crimes are committed the exact same way or under the same circumstances. The judiciary, the judges, have to be able to form an opinion and, naturally, the accused have to be able to defend themselves with lawyers. Our judicial system is the envy of a number of societies around the world. They look at us and find that our criminal system is one that is balanced and which, hopefully, allows the real criminals to be punished and the innocent to defend themselves and argue their case.
That is how our criminal justice system works. It is important that we be able to strengthen it and to give judges every opportunity to select sentences based on their wisdom and insight. Of course, one way of doing so is through this clause of the new bill.
Another amendment is in the same vein and shows the same kind of vision. Clause 42 of Bill C-23 allows the sentencing judge to issue an order prohibiting the offender from communicating with any person identified in the order—victim, witness or other—during the custodial period of the sentence, in order to protect that person. Anyone who does not comply with the order is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
This extends even more power to the judges. If ever an individual who commits a crime is a danger to others, witnesses or other persons, the judges require that individual not to contact those witnesses. The judges are given the latitude to designate persons with whom the accused must not come in contact.
It is a choice, yet again, in the same vein as the philosophy the Bloc Québécois defends. In other words, leave it up to the judges—who are the best suited for this—to decide the sentences, among other things, and also to designate the persons with whom the accused cannot come in contact.
That is how we advance society.
Bill C-23 also introduces the power for judges to delay sentencing proceedings when they deem it appropriate so that an offender can participate in a treatment program, detoxification program or other provincially recognized programs. Such a measure is useful because in the rehabilitation process it is important not to hinder the efforts made outside the legal system.
If a judge in his or her great wisdom decides that the accused must undergo treatment first, the sentence can be delayed, awaiting the results of treatment. The judge decides to consider the whole context of the crime. It is important to see whether the person can be rehabilitated and to allow him to undergo treatment to see how he progresses before handing down the sentence. I think this leaves some flexibility to the judge.
As I say, we are not the ones who invented everything in Bill C-23. It is an initiative of the entire legal community. All the stakeholders, the crown attorneys, police forces and public servants in different justice departments in both Quebec and the other Canadian provinces, got together. They have been asking for a number of years now for the Criminal Code to be modernized. These are amendments to modernize the situation. Among other things, we want to judges to have more latitude in certain specific cases. That is one way to modernize the justice system.
Today's therapies are not the same as those 20, 15 or even 10 years ago. Things have changed. There are new approaches. What we want, in the end, is not to have as few citizens as possible but as many involved in the development of our society. If people commit a crime, therefore, the first thing to do is to enable them to rehabilitate themselves through appropriate punishments and sentences. Give them a chance, and if they can be rehabilitated, that is what should be done. One of the ways of doing this, embodied in the bill, is to allow judges to ensure that appropriate treatments are provided before handing down the sentence.
The Bloc Québécois has always advocated rehabilitation-based justice and flexible rules to give judges the ability to determine the most appropriate penalty. We believe that judges are the people who are best placed to decide the penalty that will best meet the basic sentencing objectives. The basic sentencing objective is that the sentence should be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.
It is important to understand that when a reprehensible act is committed, there will be a punishment. But what punishment? The punishment has to be proportionate to the offence. All too often, the punishment is not considered in relation to the offence that was committed. That is the philosophy that the Conservative government is busy instituting with minimum sentences, mandatory sentences, etc.
What we are saying is that this is not the way our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents conceived of the system. The society we have today is the society that we inherited from our ancestors and it is a society based on justice, balance and fairness. That was our ancestors’ wish. So why today try to take the place of judges as the Conservative Party wishes to do, following in the footsteps and inspired by the values of the American Republican right. Why do that? That is not what our ancestors wanted for our society. They did not want to have a society like the Americans’. That was the choice our ancestors made. Why, today, would we wish to change this completely by imposing sentences that follow the example of American decisions. That is not what we want.
That is what the men and women of the Bloc Québécois are defending here, in this House. These are values given to us by our ancestors. That is what we are defending today. That is why Quebeckers elected members from the Bloc Québécois to defend their values. That is what we are doing.
One of the best ways, one of the great values that we can defend is the value of justice. The justice that our ancestors who founded the Quebec of today wanted is a justice based on fairness and balance between the offence committed and the punishment. The only way of doing this is to entrust these duties to magistrates, to independent persons. Too often in this House we hear of judicial appointments being made by a political party. The judiciary must really be independent of politics so as to be able to make decisions that are consistent with what our ancestors wanted, that is, a fair and just society. We must have punishments that truly fit the crime, whatever crime has been committed. These are the values that we are defending.
Bill C-23 was not proposed by the members of this House. Parliamentarians apprised the House of this bill, since we are the legislators, but it was proposed by the whole legal community, the crown attorneys, the police departments and the employees of the departments of justice in the various provinces.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the time you have given me. Quebeckers have yet one more reason to vote for members of the Bloc Québécois to defend their values.
The House resumed 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.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
October 16th, 2006 / 1:50 p.m.
Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his explanation of Bill C-23 I was most interested in his remarks toward the end of his speech when he dealt with evidence, the rules of evidence and the possibility that some evidence may be deemed inadmissible if it were I believe it is called fruit from the poisoned tree. If the source of which came into question it may preclude the possibility of that valuable evidence being used in some subsequent court hearing.
I would like him to answer a question but I would ask him to dumb it down as much as he can and speak in plain language for those of us who are not lawyers. The issue was raised recently in the House of reverse onus in two different contexts. The concept of innocent until proven guilty is being chipped away at and eroded. In one context that I can point to there was a private member's bill which did not succeed but a version of which did succeed in the province of Manitoba. In the event of the proceeds of crime being seized the onus is on the criminal to show that these are not in fact proceeds of crime. In fact, a Hell's Angel speed boat could be seized if that Hell's Angel could not actually show that he or she bought it with legitimately earned dollars.
I think where the member was going with his reservations about this bill is that if that evidence gleaned, which may be tainted and unusable, that we are getting toward a reverse onus situation and the party would have to demonstrate that it was in fact gleaned in a legitimate way.
Is that the connection that he is making reference to and does he have a comment on the proceeds of crime reverse onus situation?
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
October 16th, 2006 / 1:15 p.m.
Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, there seems to be a lot of support for this bill because few questions and comments have been raised. At first glance, this is an interesting bill to which members of this House and litigants should pay close attention. This bill would have a direct impact on litigants like me.
I have been practising law for 25 years. For the past 10 or 15 years, I have focused on criminal law. Bill C-23 is therefore of great interest to me. It will probably also be of interest to my colleagues in the legal profession who specialize in criminal law or who have been practising it more and more over the years and have become very knowledgeable about it.
Bill C-23 is interesting. With all due respect to the Minister of Justice, I would have liked this bill—which is neither right-wing nor repressive ideologically—to have been introduced before bills C-9 and C-10. We are currently debating these bills in committee, and they seem to be based on repressive right-wing ideology. In contrast, Bill C-23 is interesting in many respects.
As I was saying, for 25 years I was a lawyer and argued all sorts of criminal cases. It is not unusual to have clients or cases where it is a matter of possession of break and enter instruments, as this bill addresses. Time and time again attorneys general in the various provinces—the Attorney General of Quebec who administers criminal law in Quebec as well as the Attorney General of Canada—have been told that this does not make sense. Our client was automatically accused of breaking and entering and possession of break and enter instruments. He was accused of a criminal offence because that act was automatically considered as such. This seems utterly unusual and unacceptable to us.
It seems that Bill C-23 will at least amend that—without removing it, of course—and will allow a person accused of breaking and entering and of possession of break and enter instruments to be tried by summary conviction.
In the Criminal Code there are two types of offences and that is what I want to talk about now. There are offences that can be tried by indictment; they are indictable offences. Murder, homicide and all sorts of offences are examples. There are a number of such offences in the Criminal Code. Other offences are called dual procedure offences. The Crown prosecutor filing the complaint can decide to try by indictment or by summary conviction. In summary conviction cases, if the person is found guilty or pleads guilty, he or she will receive a maximum fine of $2,000 or a six month prison sentence or both the fine and sentence.
This new bill, and I think this is important to point out, proposes a number of amendments. It is a large bill that deserves our time and attention and careful consideration as to how it will be debated in committee.
Criminal procedure sets out how to proceed in criminal cases. Let us take for example an accused who is to receive documents. If this bill is passed, it will provide for a means of telecommunications to be used to forward warrants for the purpose of endorsement and execution in a jurisdiction other than the one in which the search warrant was obtained.
In French, that means that if someone was arrested in Rouyn-Noranda and they wanted to search the person’s residence in New Liskeard, Ontario, the original document was required. They sent it by car, from one police officer to the next, until it got to Ontario, and that could take hours. If this bill were passed, it would be possible to send it by fax, for example, with the original document to follow by mail.
On reading the bill, I think that it would be possible to send it by Internet, by e-mail, so that it could be executed as soon as possible. That is a good thing.
Changes are made to the procedure for challenging jurors, among other things, to help to preserve their impartiality. This is also a very good thing, which the bill will bring in if it passes. In the jury selection process, particularly in terms of challenges, this means that we will be able to preserve and protect the impartiality of jurors, which is the very foundation of a jury trial.
There are also a host of other details, such as summary dismissal by a judge of the court of appeal where the appeal has been brought in error. Before, a motion had to be made, saying that it had been filed in the wrong place and asking the judge to dismiss it. Now this will be handled expeditiously.
Where it starts to get interesting is in an appeal to a court of appeal from an order of a superior court relating to objects that have been seized. For example, in the past, you could not move forward as long as the court of appeal had not ruled. You had to wait, but now you will be able to proceed.
Turning now to trials by way of summary conviction for a co-accused where the co-accused fails to appear. This avoids a lot of delay. Before, the accused appeared, but the co-accused was not present, for one reason or another. The judge then adjourned the appearance until the co-accused was located. Now, if this bill is passed, the accused could be tried much more expeditiously than before.
There are all sorts of things like this, and useful things. I mentioned earlier the reclassification of the offence of possession of break-in instruments to make it a dual procedure offence. That may be useful.
Certain things are even more useful, but would almost run counter to Bill C-9. We know that that bill would eliminate the possibility of suspended sentences for a host of offences.
We all hope that this bill will not come before this House again, as introduced by the hon. Minister of Justice. On behalf of the Bloc Québécois and probably many of my colleagues on both sides of this House, I would add that Bill C-9 does not really accomplish what justice demands: that judges have the opportunity to hand down individualized sentences.
Bill C-23 contains some interesting amendments. The bill provides for the power to order an offender in custody not to communicate with identified persons and creates an offence for failing to comply with the order, which increases protection for victims. We had long been calling for this. Defence lawyers had been calling for this. Often, our client in detention would receive telephone calls from victims who wanted to talk to him, and he would call them back. In future, offenders will be prohibited from doing so. If they do not comply with this order, they will be charged with a separate offence of failing to comply with a court order.
The clarifications with respect to the application of impaired driving penalties had long been called for.
Among other things, the possibility of using an alcohol ignition interlock device was raised. This device makes it possible for an individual found guilty of impaired driving to drive a car. The offender has the right to use this device after three months.
We can now provide clarification. Previously, the matter was very complicated, and it still is. For example, a taxi driver who also owned his own car would have to have two alcohol ignition interlock devices. If this bill is adopted, it seems that things will be less complicated. We might come to a consensus about placing the device only in the principal vehicle. It is starting to look interesting.
Probably two of the most important aspects of this bill are the suspension of a conditional sentence order or a probation order during an appeal.
Today, October 16, if an accused is found guilty by a judge, he is subject to a probation order or conditional sentence order and if the accused decides to appeal, the orders remain in force. Thus, even today we still have serious problems. I hope we will be able to change this quickly.
As criminal lawyers we tell our clients that we will appeal their sentence, but that the probation order is in force. The probation order may be for a term of two years and it might be one year before the appeal is heard. The individual would have been subject to a probation order for one year for nothing.
Henceforth, we can at least apply to the court of appeal and ask the judge, upon filing of the notice of appeal, if it would be possible to suspend the sentence. Even today, this can be requested. However, criminal lawyers who live, as I do, in a region such as Abitibi-Témiscamingue are ofter forced to go to Quebec City to do so. This results in additional expenses for the accused. Thus, we believe that this is a very useful amendment. I hope it will be adopted quickly.
One of the interesting comments and one of the even more interesting amendments, is the power to delay the sentencing proceedings so that an offender can participate in a provincially approved treatment program.
This is important and here is what it means. When judges hand down a decision and find an accused guilty, after a fair trial, they will very often delay sentencing, by asking, say, for a pre-sentence report. This is a report that establishes the circumstances of the charge, the circumstances of the offence and who the accused is. Generally a pre-sentence report is prepared at the request of the accused and most often in very important cases.
The accused may in fact have a long criminal record. For instance, he may be charged with manslaughter or found guilty of criminal negligence. These are often very serious cases. The following example comes to mind. An accused found guilty of, or who pleads guilty to, impaired driving causing bodily harm, or causing death, is automatically subject to a prison sentence. The court will generally hand down its decision.
However, under the proposed amendment, the court could delay sentencing until the accused completes his addiction treatment or another appropriate treatment program.
Take, for example, an accused who is sentenced for domestic abuse. He decides to attend a treatment program or violence counselling. The judge hands down his decision, stipulating that the accused must continue his therapy. The accused continues his therapy, but the judge does not know anything about it. Is the accused still dangerous?
So there were some cases—and we defended many—in which the judge, in a case of manslaughter or impaired driving causing bodily harm, handed down his sentence without knowing what the effects were on the accused and the victims.
If this amendment is passed, sentencing could be delayed. Sometimes it takes from three to six months before we get all the reports. Nowadays we do so by consent, but it is illegal.
So the proposed amendment could make it very interesting for the courts in their decisions.
Moreover I would like to urge the House to look very seriously at Bill C-23 with regard to anything to do with both official languages. I was able to take a quick look at the proposed amendments proposed to section 730.
It is proposed that section 720 respecting probation orders and treatment orders be amended. As far as probation orders are concerned, the accused is entitled to have the documents. So someone who has been found guilty must receive the documents and they must be explained in the official language of his choice. Let us take the example of a francophone accused who works in Calgary or Fort MacMurray. These are areas in which English predominates but someone who asks for his trial to be in French can get it.
I draw your attention to subsection 5 of section 732.1, where it is stated that a copy of the documents explaining the conditions must be given to the offender in order to ensure that the terms of presentation and so forth are respected. The following would be added to that subsection, “For greater certainty, a failure to comply with subsection (5) does not affect the validity of the probation order.” This subsection deals with the fact that when a court issues a probation order it gives a copy of the documents to the offender.
This casts some doubt on what the parliamentary secretary told us earlier when I asked him the question. We will have to pay extremely close attention when the amendments set out in Bill C-23 are being examined. It is fine to talk about bilingualism, but bilingualism has to be applied. To achieve that, it is necessary that a person not only receive all the information in his or her official language, but that he or she should understand the information and that someone should take the time to explain it.
On the whole, this is a very interesting bill. The amendments proposed in the bill could clarify the provisions of the Criminal Code and simplify some judicial proceedings.
Mr. Speaker, I see you signalling that I have only one minute remaining. I will proceed directly to my conclusions. The Bloc Québécois is especially pleased to see amendments that contribute to improving the work of judges by giving them greater discretion. These measures will give judges better tools to do their job, which is to determine the most appropriate sentence. And this will contribute to the objectives of deterrence and reparation, as well as an objective that is too often forgotten by our friends opposite in the government, which is that of rehabilitation.
In closing, the Bloc Québécois will be in favour of this bill and we hope that it can receive the support of this House as quickly as possible, in the interests of improving justice.
Criminal CodeGovernment Orders
October 16th, 2006 / 12:50 p.m.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Fundy Royal New Brunswick
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.
Niagara Falls Ontario
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.