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.