Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise on Bill S-9, the tackling auto theft and property crime act.
I rise today to speak to this bill, an act I am pleased to see yet again in this place. I hope it will not follow its ill-fated identical twins, Bill C-58 and Bill C-26, which we mourn today. They were killed on the order paper by the poll-obsessed Conservative Party for the sake of political expediency. This is another well-intentioned piece of legislation and another piece of legislation where good intentions are late and not enough.
Let us be clear, as vice-chair of the justice committee, I and the Liberal Party promise that we will support this bill going to committee and being expeditiously dealt with at that committee.
The system within this bill will fail to keep Canadians safe and secure in their property without a commitment to enforcement, not headlines and hype but money and manpower, boots on the street, a dedication to putting Canadians' safety first, above hyperbole, above how our parties are faring or may fare in the polls.
Standing up and acting for Canadians, which I believe is a slogan of one of the parties here, standing up for Canadians, means taking concrete action. On this side, we have committed to taking what action we can to protect Canadians and encourage government to fund the police forces that can put laws like this, albeit very lately enacted, into action.
That means making the best of a flawed bill like this, sending it to committee, studying it, amending it, recognizing the good and singling out the bad, but nothing that this bill or the justice committee can do will affect the deficit of police forces and money to police forces across this country.
I want to reiterate the point that my friend, the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre made in having us remember what could be called the good law firm of Doer, Chomiak and Katz, and of course those were the Manitoba premier and minister of justice and the mayor of Winnipeg. The Manitobans came to town and asked for four things.
Now it is over four years since they came, and this bill addresses three of those items. The last item was in fact a request towards the realization that gangs, and youth gangs in particular, were being used in Winnipeg as the pawns, the effectors, of organized crime thefts of vehicles. The Youth Criminal Justice Act as it existed then and as it exists now allows for an accused youth to be let out of remand, to be not remanded, pending trial and in between offences.
Now this was precisely the situation that led the province of Nova Scotia, on my coast, to commission Justice Merlin Nunn to study the issue of youth criminal justice legislation and to make recommendations in what is now known as the Nunn commission report.
One of those glaring recommendations was to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act in the smallest way, with the fewest words to absolve our communities of this problem, the problem of youths being let go from remand, being let out of the custody of the court pending a determination of their issues. Remand is something that keeps a person who is accused of a serious offence in custody pending the determination of their issue, if there are grounds.
In many cases there are grounds for adults, and adult offenders are remanded or kept in custody. It is not so in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It was that fact that in the Nunn commission case study gave rise to its need. It was not the case and it had disastrous consequences.
As I said Doer, Chomiak and Katz came to Ottawa wanting that simple amendment more than four and a half years ago. They have not, as my NDP colleague mentioned, received that simple amendment.
People might ask why a simple wording amendment to a fairly large and complicated act, which would not have met with any resistance from this side, was not done. It is because, like everything the government does, it has to be presented in a political fashion. Politics has to be played with the Criminal Code. It has to be played in the realm of criminal justice.
When everybody agreed on an amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that would have given Manitobans the fourth item they wanted, the Conservative government added a phrase that was of debate. The point is that there was unanimous agreement on the amendment, but it had to add another element of denunciation and deterrence, which is alive with debate in the country, and spoiled it. It spoiled the idea that very quickly and very simply, for the benefit of the people in Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba and all the provinces in Canada, it could have had this amendment that everybody wanted. No doubt this has wreaked havoc across this country and has resulted in further actions by youths not in remand, joyriding and stealing cars, as adjuncts of gang activity in cities such as Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Abbotsford, British Colombia, and have made Canadians less safe than when the Conservative government was elected.
Shame on the Conservative government for not acting quickly on that fourth request from the Manitoba delegation.
Any night between 5:00 and 7:30, depending upon where one lives, newscasts will show the Conservative government as friends of the police, as friends of victims, but it does very little in action for police forces across the country. Police forces have been requesting funding. Police forces have not received the man hours, the boots on the streets that they require.
With respect to auto theft, members may say that more police officials will not necessarily lead to a decrease in auto theft. The Toronto Star reported in July 2009, three years or so into the mandate of the government, that the provincial auto theft team, a joint task force involving the OPP, the Insurance Bureau of Canada and local police forces, was going through a restructuring that would see a further decrease in the number of officers investigating auto theft in the GTA.
This is Canada's largest city. Now we know that the government has money to throw around in Canada's largest city on various security measures for a very short-term project, but it does not have the money to flow through the provinces to keep the provincial auto theft team properly staffed. If I were the mayor of Toronto or running for election as mayor of Toronto, I would be kind of steamed at the federal government for not putting its resources in policing.
Police forces are indeed the front line of how to prevent auto theft. I recall, as part of our study on organized crime, that in Winnipeg we met with a number of police officials who were very surgical in how they were going to approach the problem of auto theft in their community, and they were very successful. They were not successful with laws, necessarily. They did not rely upon the after-the-fact retribution or punishment that is replete in the Criminal Code. They relied upon intelligence, savvy and resources, and they successfully reduced the level of auto theft in Winnipeg. That was a matter of resources, of money.
While we might sit here as parliamentarians all agreeing to what is in this bill, we as parliamentarians have a deficit with the public in suggesting that this bill was brought forward in a timely basis and that it will have the effect of completely eradicating auto theft or even reducing auto theft in the short term. In other words, we have gone to the shelf and we have seen what is on the shelf. We are going to grab what is on the shelf, but it is not enough to feed the issue that is burning, in this case, auto theft across this country.
Let us examine some of the elements of this bill.
It includes mandatory minimums. We can have a long debate on whether mandatory minimums work. Some of the bad in this bill includes the provisions for mandatory minimums in sentencing. We have been at this experiment of increased mandatory minimums for five years. I look forward at committee to seeing whether the mandatory minimum increase experiment is working. In this case it is a six-month mandatory sentence for third and subsequent auto theft offences. These mandatory minimums are less severe than the Conservatives have brought forward in the past, but as always they impinge on judicial discretion in sentencing. It is why the Canadian Bar Association has expressed opposition to mandatory minimums.
This is a continuing trend with the government. As in many other justice bills, the Conservatives seek to strip judges of their authority. There is lack of overall respect for judges. On this side, for probably the umpteenth time I am here suggesting that we have one of the best judiciary systems in the world. We should be very proud that we do not have the kind of capricious justice that takes place in almost every other country but Canada. As the government is always saying, we should celebrate our strength. We should celebrate the fact that we have a great judiciary.
I was here yesterday in this place making the same case on white collar crime. This is a bill that would not have incurred much opposition had it been brought forward earlier. It is a bill that we should have brought to the Canadian public earlier, and it is a bill that might have prevented other white collar crimes or frauds having taken place in the time it took us, I will say, to get to this.
Of course the reason we did not get to it is we have been having elections every couple of years. The government prorogued Parliament, and I hope the public understands that if a piece of legislation that is ready to go, could be almost all the way there, has not been signed by the Governor General it is not law. If it is not proclaimed, it is not law. So it can be right up to the eleventh hour and all the work has been done on it with respect to amendments and committee reports and witnesses coming before the committee, and all the speeches in the House, and if we have prorogation the bill dies. All that work goes down the drain and we start the process over again.
That is why we have this subject today in Bill S-9 which is really the same bill as C-53 and Bill C-26 before it. It seems that the government is okay with wasting this chamber's precious time on failed ideology and simplistic conceptions of crime prevention. Conservatives feel that a sentence, something to amend the Criminal Code, will really work with respect to crime prevention. It is not the case. Crime prevention starts at an early age with respect to an offender. It starts in the communities and the police forces when they have to be properly equipped and resourced to combat crime.
The second element of the bill, which we applaud, is the separating of the offence of auto theft. One of the positive aspects is the creation of the new separate discrete offence of auto theft. It provides for a far more appropriate range of sentencing options than could be found in previous legislation. The summary conviction aspect of it has a maximum penalty of 18 months, which tripled the existing summary conviction and average summary conviction limit of 6 months. It shows strength. It takes account of the realization that auto theft is a major and numerously copied crime in all communities in Canada. It is a response to the delegation from Winnipeg and from the various articles from decades before in the larger cities in Canada.
The indictable conviction has a maximum term of 10 years regardless of the value of the vehicle. In case the House is curious, I can inform it that the most stolen vehicle in Canada is the Honda Civic. So everyone who has a Honda Civic, please take note. Lock it up.
There is no minimum sentence for summary convictions, and the type of prosecution is up to the crown attorney, creating a broader spectrum of options. That hybrid aspect, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, is a very good and flexible way to deal with the different types of auto theft. It is an improvement on the previous legislation. However, I have to put my two cents in that if the government believed in discretion with respect to how a crown attorney or crown prosecutor might proceed, it should give a little more leniency toward the idea of judicial discretion, as we were saying just a minute ago about mandatory minimums.
The aspect of giving more powers to the Canadian Border Services Agency is another positive change. The Canadian Border Services Agency will be empowered, if this legislation passes, to stop, search and seize goods believed to have been obtained criminally. At present, the CBSA may only stop, search and seize goods whose importation or exportation was prohibited by an act of Parliament. There is no provision for the seizure of goods, the possession of which is prohibited by law. Therefore, this is a very good enhancement to the authority of CBSA.
Perhaps what is most modern about the bill is the respect that it gives to vehicle identification numbers.
We believe it is useful to add measures concerning vehicle identification numbers and we would like to discuss this measure in committee. That is the kind of innovative measure that could help combat the problem of auto theft in Canada.
The obliteration of VIN numbers is a low-risk, high-profit tactic of organized criminal gangs. This provision should help crack down on organized criminal activity, a main source of auto theft in Canada. By denying criminal gangs access to a primary source of funding, the currency of gangs, we can inhibit them from developing their activities elsewhere.
The possession of property: to be in possession of a stolen car:
The provision concerning the possession of stolen vehicles is interesting and also merits discussion. That is another measure that could prove to be a useful tool for police forces. We need to be innovative in order to combat criminals who steal vehicles, who themselves are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
The measure is the first half of a clause meant to combat the trafficking in stolen goods following the actual theft. By cracking down on those in possession of stolen property, the disincentive from purchasing property one suspects or knows to be stolen is created. By restricting, therefore, the ability of criminals to fence or sell their stolen goods, their capacity to easily make money is reduced, their risk level goes up and their profit goes down as consumers choose to forgo the risk in inherent in the slightly cheaper, ill-obtained good from their legitimate cousins.
Trafficking in stolen property initially is buttressed and improved in, let us call it Bill C-26-Bill C-58-Bill S-9. We wholly support this aspect. The penalty for trafficking or fencing in stolen goods can be severe: up to 14 years in prison. It is an example of an effective provision that leaves the judicial determination through discretion of giving a sentence that severe in the most severe case of auto theft, trafficking or being in possession, and we support it.
In this case, the Winnipeg and Manitoba officials support this law and the stakeholder reaction has been very supportive of the bill, although half-heartedly. The support is that. yes, this is a good bill, but Professor Rick Linden, University of Manitoba, at the heart of the auto theft activity in this country, noted that the bill was a good step forward but that significant reductions in crime would only occur if we also invest significant resources in police tactics, numbers and in implementing other evidence-based prevention programs.
That is where I would like to conclude. As I stated, we could have had and should have had this bill long ago. It is only one step and only a minor step forward in the battle against car theft in this country. We need to get boots on the street and respect and resource municipalities, communities and police forces who will use, as Professor Linden says, smart tactics and other evidence-based prevention programs. There is something new for the government.
With that, I am happy to conclude and say that we support the bill going to committee. In fact, I have every indication that we will deal with the bill by the end of the year and get it onto the books as a minor step forward.