An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Criminal Code

(a) to add to the sentencing provisions for murder so that any murder committed in connection with a criminal organization is first degree murder, regardless of whether it is planned and deliberate;

(b) to create offences of intentionally discharging a firearm while being reckless about endangering the life or safety of another person, of assaulting a peace officer with a weapon or causing bodily harm and of aggravated assault of a peace officer; and

(c) to extend the duration of a recognizance to up to two years for a person who it is suspected will commit a criminal organization offence, a terrorism offence or an intimidation offence under section 423.1 if they were previously convicted of such an offence, and to clarify that the recognizance may include conditions such as electronic monitoring, participation in a treatment program and a requirement to remain in a specified geographic area.

Elsewhere

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

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 24th, 2009 / 10:05 a.m.
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Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in today’s third reading debate on C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants). I am pleased to note that the bill was adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights without amendment.

The Government of Canada recognizes that organized crime, including gang activity, continues to pose a threat to the safety of our streets and communities, and Bill C-14 is part of our strategy to address this problem. This bill proposes amendments to strengthen the Criminal Code’s responses to organized crime. Most notably, it is taking direct aim at the increasing use of violence committed by organized crime. With these amendments, we are demonstrating our commitment to improving the safety and security of communities across Canada.

I am pleased to note that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights met March 30, April 1 and April 20, 2009 and heard from the Minister of Justice, officials from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and a range of stakeholders, including representatives of law enforcement, prosecutors and the Canadian Council of Defence Lawyers.

Bill C-14 proposes amendments in four broad areas.

First, it makes all murders connected to criminal organizations automatically first-degree murder, regardless of whether they were planned and deliberate.

Second, it creates a new offence to target reckless shootings involving the intentional disregard for the life or safety of another person.

Third, it creates new offences to respond to assaults against peace officers which cause bodily harm or involve the use of a weapon and the aggravated assault of a peace officer.

Fourth, it amends the gang recognizance provision to clarify that a judge can impose any reasonable conditions and to lengthen the period of the order to 24 months where an offender has been previously convicted of a criminal organization offence, terrorist offence or intimidation of justice system participant offence.

The bill received very strong support from almost all witnesses appearing before the committee. The proposed amendments to make all murders committed in close connection with organized crime automatically first degree, regardless of whether the murder was planned and deliberate, was well received. As you know, those convicted of murder receive a life sentence, but those convicted of first-degree murder are ineligible for parole for 25 years. In the case of second-degree murder, it is 10 years.

The committee heard evidence from officials from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics confirming that gang-related homicides are on the rise in Canada. In 2007, there were 594 homicides in Canada and 117 were gang-related. The committee also heard evidence from a prosecutor from Quebec that this amendment would be useful in securing first-degree murder convictions in gang homicides, regardless of whether it was planned and deliberate.

As to the second key element of Bill C-14, the creation of a new offence to address drive-by and other reckless shootings, this would be accomplished by prohibiting the intentional discharge of a firearm when in so doing the shooter turned their mind to the fact that doing so could put the life or safety of another person at risk.

There have been claims during committee debates that this offence is redundant and already covered by section 244 of the Criminal Code. This proposed offence is different from the existing and equally serious firearm offence, section 244, because it does not require proof that the shooter specifically intended to cause bodily harm to a person, something which I understand can be difficult to prove in certain cases.

The proposed offence is punishable by mandatory minimum penalties, which increase when the offence is committed for a criminal organization or if it involved a prohibited or restricted firearm.

The proposed mandatory minimum penalties did have the support of the prosecutors and law enforcement representatives, who saw the penalties, including the mandatory minimum penalties, as significant and important tools for prosecutors and law enforcement in the fight against organized crime.

However, the issue of the proposed mandatory minimum penalties was not universally supported. The Canadian Council of Defence Lawyers had concerns with the use of mandatory minimum penalties. As well, the proposed mandatory minimum penalties was the object of a motion to amend by the Bloc Quebecois that would have deleted the mandatory minimum penalties and left only the maximum penalty of fourteen years imprisonment. This motion did not carry.

I would like to take a moment to explain Bill C-14's proposal to have a mandatory minimum penalty for this offence. First of all, the penalty scheme of the proposed drive-by shooting offence is consistent with the overall penalty scheme of the Criminal Code. There are already a number of offences involving the use of firearms where mandatory minimum penalties apply, such as attempted murder and assault with a weapon.

Second, section 244, the existing offence of “discharging a firearm”, already carries a mandatory minimum penalty of four years, and the proposed offence is modelled on section 244. It would have created an inconsistency in the Criminal Code to have no mandatory minimum penalty in the new offence to address drive-by shootings but still have one in the existing section 244.

There should be no mistake about the government’s position, as reflected in Bill C-14: we need to take steps to address the lethal combination of guns and gangs. As an aside, I would also like to mention that the officials from Statistics Canada indicated that nearly 69% of gang-related homicides were committed with a firearm. In contrast, only 20% of non gang-related homicides involved firearms.

The third key element of this bill is aimed at providing increased protection for peace officers and responding to violence committed against other justice system participants. It does this by creating new offences to prohibit assaults against peace officers which cause bodily harm and aggravated assaults against peace officers. These offences are punishable, on indictment, by a maximum period of imprisonment of 10 and 14 years respectively.

These amendments were also supported by prosecution and law enforcement officials and viewed as necessary and useful. In addition, this bill would require a court to give primary consideration to the principles of denunciation and deterrence when sentencing an offender for any of the offences involving assaults against peace officers, as well as cases involving the intimidation of justice system participants, such as judges, prosecutors or jurors. This sends the right message and demonstrates the seriousness with which Parliament treats such acts that undermine the rule of law and the criminal justice system generally.

The fourth area of reform in this bill relates to the gang peace bond provision, which are preventive court orders requiring an individual to agree to keep the peace and to abide by other specific conditions. These amendments would clarify that, when issuing a recognizance order or a promise to keep the peace, a judge can impose any conditions that he or she feels are necessary to secure the good conduct of the defendant. The amendments would also extend the maximum length of the order from 12 months to 24 months, if the defendant had been previously convicted of a criminal organization offence. These amendments also relate to those who are suspected will commit a terrorist offence or an intimidation of justice system participant offence.

These elements of Bill C-14 offer important tools because they seek to prevent the commission of organized crime offences before they take place. They can be an extremely useful tool for police in controlling gang activity, and these amendments will ensure that the orders are used as they were intended.

Police in Ontario use these provisions as part of their gang strategy to control the “small fry” in a gang. The prosecution witness that the committee heard from suggested that Quebec will start using this new provision in Bill C-14 as part of its own street gang strategy.

I am pleased that Bill C-14 has been thoroughly examined by the justice committee and that we are rapidly approaching our goal of seeing this legislation passed into law.

This government has made the safety and security of Canadians a priority. I am confident that Bill C-14 is a strong and urgently needed step in the right direction and I urge all honourable members to support its passage.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 24th, 2009 / 10:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his interest in Bill C-14 whose purpose is to protect the public.

The citizens of his riding will be pleased, since they too want to feel safe. We are here to work together to ensure the safety of all our citizens. Many people say that mandatory minimum sentences will leave judges with very little flexibility; however, we must bear in mind that they are meant to send a clear message to criminals, specifically, that we are serious and we condemn certain actions, such as drive-by shootings and intentional discharge of a firearm.

We have seen some complacency in the past. We, however, intend to show that we are taking serious action against organized crime. When people involved in organized crime see that Parliament is beginning to give in, it grows stronger. When they see that Parliament and parliamentarians will not give in, that we are taking a stand, they are the ones who will give in, and that is our goal.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 24th, 2009 / 10:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the parliamentary secretary's comments.

We both sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. He is quite right. We have heard a number of witnesses speak about Bill C-14. These witnesses reminded us of the importance of taking action, especially given the current situation in several major cities, where there has been an increase in organized crime attacks using rifles. For example, the tragedies that have been unfolding in Vancouver over the past few months have really captured the public's attention and public concern is growing steadily.

I do not intend to speak for a long time. I had the opportunity to speak at second reading of this bill. As there were no amendments in committee, this bill has remained unchanged since second reading in this Parliament. You might remember the excellent speech that I gave on this bill. Since nothing has changed, I intend to be brief on this Friday morning.

The one thing that is important to underline with respect to Bill C-14 is the cooperation that all parties showed in passing this important legislation. When the legislation was introduced, the Minister of Justice said that the opposition parties would obstruct and delay the bill and that the government was very much concerned that it will become very complicated to get it through the House of Commons.

However, we saw the exact opposite in this place. When an issue of public security, as important as the fight against organized crime, is on the floor of the House of Commons, all parties showed a great deal of willingness to pass the legislation. The legislation, in our view, was a responsible and balanced measure to deal with the very difficult circumstance of gun violence in an organized crime context and the protection of peace officers and those in the judicial system.

I will remind the House that the legislation does four things. It would create sentencing provisions so that every murder committed in connection with a criminal organization is considered first degree murder regardless of whether there was premeditation. It would create a drive-by shooting offence, the discharge of a firearm with recklessness, and would impose a four-year mandatory prison sentence on someone convicted under that offence. It would create a mandatory minimum sentence with respect to assaulting a peace officer, an aggravated assault or an assault with a weapon of a peace officer or those who work in the judicial system. It also would extend the duration of recognizance for up to two years for a person who has previously been convicted of a gang related offence.

Those are four important measures. In our view, the legislation seeks to reassure the public and to send a clear message that Parliament will be very diligent with respect to the fight against organized crime.

However, what the legislation does not do is deal with the difficult problem of prevention, of giving the police the tools they need to pursue the gang members and those who are involved in organized crime. The government likes to focus on the sentencing provisions. Every time government members have a chance, they talk about how they have toughened up sentences, increased penalties and imposed mandatory minimums.

We do not disagree that that is part of the solution. As long as they are balanced and appropriate, they can be part of a comprehensive approach to deal with the very difficult problem of organized crime. However, it is not the final answer to that difficult problem when police are telling us that they desperately need to modernize the investigative techniques at their disposal and that they need lawful access legislation that allows them, in a 21st century way, with, obviously, the provision of a court order, to have electronic surveillance on communications by different gang members.

In the old days, when the police could get a wiretap order from a judge and listen to someone's home telephone attached to the wall in the kitchen, those days are over. The communication capacities of these organized criminal gangs are such that the investigative techniques that the police officers require to investigate and then prosecute these criminals need modernization.

One of the challenges in prosecuting an organized crime member, particularly with respect to a very violent crime or a murder, is often the reluctance of witnesses to come forward. There can be a terrible situation where people in broad daylight in a residential area or in a shopping centre will witness either a violent crime or a shooting and then when the police do an investigation and try to have witnesses give statements and ultimately testify once charges are laid, it becomes very difficult to get these people to testify because of the fear of reprisals.

Therefore, part of an investigation requires the ability to access electronic surveillance and exchanges of emails on blackberries or direct transmissions from one blackberry device to another. Our laws have not kept up with those communication instruments.

When the Attorney General of British Columbia came to Ottawa some months ago, one of the things he asked Parliament to move quickly on was modernizing investigative techniques and lawful access. He also asked Parliament to deal with the problem of the two for one remand credit. I am very happy that Bill C-25 was introduced, which the Liberal Party will be supporting as well, once again to limit the extra credit given for remand time while awaiting a trial.

In our view, this legislation represents part of the solution. However, the government needs to spend more time focusing on what it can do to prevent crime and not simply punish somebody who is convicted once there is already a victim. The tragedy with crimes committed in accordance with Bill C-14 is that hey will be among the most violent and dangerous crimes because they are associated with criminal gangs. Once a charge is laid under these new provisions, a tragedy, without doubt, has taken place.

We will see victims of these organized criminal gangs on television and in our communities. At that point, it is important for those convicted of these crimes to face stiff penalties. However, we think it is equally important to ask those communities what tools, what law enforcement agencies, what social programs, what educational institutions and what addiction programs they need from us to prevent people being victims, which, ultimately, will make communities much safer.

As I mentioned, the Liberal Party supported this bill.

We plan on continuing to work with the other political parties in this Parliament when balanced and responsible measures to improve public safety throughout the country are introduced. But we will also insist at all times that there be a balance between imposing harsh penalties for the most serious criminal offences and providing provincial and municipal authorities and police forces with the tools they need to prevent crime.

We must help them to take action before citizens become victims or unfortunate situations arise such as those we have seen in major Canadian cities in recent months.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 24th, 2009 / 10:45 a.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants).

First of all, I am delighted to be part of a team like the Bloc Québécois, which includes members such as our colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, a former public safety minister in the Quebec government, who created the joint forces that gave rise to Opération printemps 2001 against the Hells Angels. Today in 2009, we are still seeing the results. These joint forces continue their hard work and continue to aggressively tackle organized crime, practically wiping out the Hells Angels.

Of course we are also very proud to have the hon. member for Hochelaga on our team. Since 1997, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, he has been proposing amendments to the Criminal Code specifically to attack organized crime and reverse the burden of proof when it comes to the proceeds of crime, so that the burden of proof does not always fall on the Crown in that regard.

At present, our colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue sits on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. He is a renowned law scholar and criminal lawyer who practised law before being elected to this House. These are all members who can add to this debate and the other parties would do well to listen to the recommendations made by the Bloc Québécois.

Understandably, our party does not oppose Bill C-14. When criminal groups like street gangs disturb honest citizens and put their lives in danger, we must take action. We can improve legislation, strengthen the actions of police forces, provide them with tools that are more effective and better suited to new criminal realities, and most importantly, invest in crime prevention. We must take targeted action that produces real results. Yet the Conservatives seem to prefer only one approach, that is, suppression through punitive measures.

When it comes to justice, the Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the most effective approach is always prevention. We have to attack crime at its roots. It is better to attack the causes of crime and violence than to wait until something gets broken and then try to fix it. That is the wisest approach, not to mention the most advantageous one, both socially and financially. Could it possibly be any clearer than that? We have to begin by attacking poverty, inequality and exclusion, all of which are fertile ground for frustration and its scions, violence and crime.

People need to live in safe places, to be sheltered from extreme poverty, and to have access to an affordable education system. On all counts, the Quebec nation has made choices that set it apart from the rest. Its tuition fees are among the lowest in North America, its daycare network is exemplary, and its social safety net is designed to prevent families from slipping into poverty. The Bloc Québécois recognizes that gangs do commit serious criminal offences, acts for which they must be held accountable in court.

The government's duty is to intervene and use the tools that are available to enable Quebeckers and Canadians to live peacefully and safely. However, its measures must have a truly positive impact on crime. They have to give us more than rhetoric and fear campaigns. We need something better than an imitation of the U.S. system, whose results are dubious, at best. That is why the Bloc Québécois has devoted so much energy to its consideration of Bill C-14. During the committee's work on this bill, the members for Hochelaga and Abitibi—Témiscamingue listened to witnesses, asked the right questions, shared information and checked facts. In the end, the committee's study confirmed our initial position. We support the bill's goal to get tougher on street gangs.

That is why, for so many years now, the Bloc Québécois has been proposing measures to get tougher on criminal organizations, including street gangs, that threaten the safety of honest citizens. Getting rid of the two-for-one credit, among other things, is one Bloc Québécois proposal that the government has chosen to turn into a bill. That idea finally found an ear in the governing party, as has the concept of an anti-gang law, another Bloc Québécois proposal that has been around since the mid-1990s thanks to the member for Hochelaga, as I mentioned earlier.

That does not mean that the bill is perfect. In committee, we proposed an amendment that would have removed the minimum penalties, as they are not in keeping with Quebec's model of justice based on rehabilitation and reintegration. With regard to minimum penalties, members have to understand that we have a justice system in place that is based on judges, who are competent people. It is hard to watch the Conservatives, who probably would have liked to change the judges. They have tried to and have made appointments.

Quebeckers, with the way they have always looked at justice, clearly have an effective justice system and competent judges. Every case is unique, and we leave it up to the judges to set sentences. That is how Quebec understands the fight against crime and how Quebeckers have administered justice day after day, year after year and even century after century. Why try to replace judges with minimum penalties now? That is where the problem lies. The Bloc Québécois will always be opposed to a justice system that does not provide an opportunity for all parties to be heard and does not simply let the punishment fit the crime.

However, we are aware that some provisions of Bill C-14 are derived from existing offences. For example, clause 8 of the bill, which we hoped to amend, uses almost the exact wording of section 244 of the Criminal Code, which already provides for minimum penalties and which we tried to amend in 2007. These are not new provisions, but variations on existing offences.

Even though its amendment was rejected, the Bloc Québécois will not oppose Bill C-14. This bill has a generally noble objective, which is to reduce street gang crime. We share that objective. We cannot allow street gangs to do as they please and threaten the safety of honest people. To achieve that objective, the bill essentially proposes to use harsher penalties for existing offences and even minimum penalties in some cases.

The Bloc Québécois is disappointed that, to achieve such an important objective, the Conservatives are ignoring a series of measures that we find to be much more promising than mandatory minimum sentences. The Bloc Québécois also formulated a number of proposals of interest that the government should include. In short, even though our objective is the same, we do not agree with the Conservatives on the approach.

This does not mean that we are rejecting outright any proposal from the other parties. On the contrary. We are not like the Conservatives. The Bloc Québécois is very rigorous and will analyze the bill's provisions in committee to ascertain how effective it will be in achieving such an important objective. Even though the amendments we suggested were not retained, we will support the bill as long as the committee does its job.

It is worthwhile repeating what we suggested. First, we must combat the root causes of crime. We owe it to Quebeckers to take the fight against crime seriously, not to play petty politics with fundamental rights and, above all, to give them a true picture of the situation. Our party has taken this serious approach on a number of occasions, particularly in its steadfast commitment to ensuring the use of appropriate and effective measures to assess the pertinence of each bill. We have also been very serious in our ongoing concern for crime prevention, which should be at the top of the list of initiatives.

Tackling the causes of crime and violence, rather than waiting for things to break down and then trying to fix them, is the wisest, and more importantly, the most profitable approach, in both social and economic terms. We want this to be very clear. First, we have to tackle poverty, inequality and exclusion, all of which provide fertile ground for frustration and its manifestations: violence and crime. Recent events in Montreal—where the socio-demographic picture indicates that a large portion of the population is struggling economically—clearly demonstrate that the most promising approach is to try to give these people what they need to improve their living conditions. The Bloc Québécois has made some progress in that regard.

We have not been lenient when it comes to criminals and our actions prove it. Given that the activities of organized crime groups continue to increase year after year, thereby compromising public safety, the Bloc Québécois promised as far back as 1997 to insist that the federal government pass concrete measures to step up the fight against organized crime.

On September 24, 1998, the Bloc Québécois introduced a bill to combat money laundering and proposed that the $1,000 bill be taken out of circulation. That was a Bloc initiative. Although that bill died on the order paper, the Bloc did not back down. The government eventually followed through on the Bloc`s request and took the $1,000 bill out of circulation.

During the 2000 election campaign, the Bloc pushed hard to get Ottawa to finally pass anti-gang legislation, so we could lock up the outlaw motorcycle gangs that were running rampant in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois is proud to have been the first party in Ottawa to bring forward the idea of anti-gang legislation and to have made it our priority until it was finally passed by Parliament. The convictions that resulted from the Hells Angels megatrials in 2004 have shown just how valuable this legislation is.

The Bloc Québécois is also proud of its success in convincing the other federal parties to reverse the onus of proof for members of criminal organizations. This is what I was explaining earlier. Now, criminals have to prove that money and assets confiscated from them by law enforcement authorities did not come from criminal activity and that they are not living off the proceeds of crime.

Today, these laws continue to provide enforcement authorities with a set of legislative and regulatory tools they can use to more effectively prosecute organizations or associations that have the hallmarks of organized crime. We saw this recently in Quebec, with Operation Printemps 2009, where police seized criminal assets. Now, the criminals will have to prove that those assets were purchased with money that was not proceeds of crime. Once again, reverse onus, which was proposed by the Bloc Québécois and passed by the House of Commons, provides police with effective tools.

Let us look now at what we are proposing, On June 15, 2007, the Bloc recommended a series of major changes to Canada's justice system. I will list the four proposed measures.

First, we are asking that the Criminal Code be amended so that when violent acts involving firearms or knives are committed, membership in a street gang is considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.

Second, we are calling for the creation of a fund that Quebec and the provinces could use to train crown prosecutors specifically for street gang trials. These proposals come out of the experience of the Government of Quebec, which created the organized crime prosecution bureau in 2001, with teams of prosecutors who specialize in organized crime. By training specialized prosecutors, Quebec has convicted 286 people of gangsterism offences. The bureau will be put to good use after Operation Printemps 2009. This group of specialized crown prosecutors will enable Quebec to tackle organized crime.

Third, since global positioning system (GPS) technology helps police prove and connect movements by gang members, the Bloc Québécois proposes to extend warrants for investigations using GPS surveillance to one year, so that they are valid for as long as electronic surveillance warrants.

Fourth, copies of all court rulings on street gangs and organized crime should be compiled and kept.

I invite all the other parties to listen to the Bloc Québécois recommendations, which were very relevant in the past.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 24th, 2009 / 12:10 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support this bill at third reading.

Bill C-14 proposes to amend the Criminal Code in several important ways. It facilitates the prosecution of gang related and organized crime and it makes our communities safer by introducing several new initiatives.

Specifically, Bill C-14 makes murders connected with organized crime activity automatically first degree and presumptively planned and deliberate. It creates three new offences: one, intentionally discharging a firearm while being reckless about endangering the life or safety of another person; two, assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm to a peace officer; and three, aggravated assault of a peace officer.

The bill also extends the maximum duration of a recognizance to two years for a person who has been previously convicted of an offence involving a criminal organization, or intimidating a justice system participant. The recognizance conditions have also been clarified, which is another positive attribute of the bill.

In simple terms, this bill is aimed at reducing gang related violence, reducing drive-by or public shootings, and protecting our justice system officials, notably our police officers who have to deal with gang activity on a daily basis.

The bill is timely. It is helpful. It is a measured and defensible response with aspects that all Canadians can and should support, but it is not sufficient nor will it alone address all of the aspects of violent crime and gang activity that we need to address.

I would like to place the bill in the context of my own riding. I live in and represent the riding of Vancouver Kingsway, a riding that straddles the east and west sides of Vancouver. All Canadians have seen the violence that has erupted in Vancouver and in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. In the last four months alone we have had over three dozen shootings and at least 15 deaths. We have had public shootings in our streets, at homes and in shopping centre parking lots. Two women have been shot; one was murdered in a car in front of her four-year-old son. This outburst of violence, of gunfire, of deaths, many of which are obviously gang related, deserves a swift and strong response from all parliamentarians. We New Democrats are prepared to support such a response.

Indeed, just six months ago, New Democrats campaigned on renewing and strengthening our federal crime program. New Democrats called then and we call now for: 2,500 more police officers across Canada to be added to our forces; improved witness protection programs; more resources for prosecution and enforcement; toughened proceeds of crime legislation; better coordination between RCMP, border services, provincial and municipal police forces; and better and more prevention programs to divert youth at risk. Just as important, indeed it is critical that there be an understanding of and commitment to the concept that crime does not just happen, that it is a product of the health, or not, of society at large. Crime is connected in many ways to poverty, to unemployment, to weakened family units, to inadequate social supports.

It is this last component that I believe sets the New Democrats apart from the other two national parties. New Democrats understand that only a balanced and multi-faceted approach to crime will pay dividends and actually work to reduce it. New Democrats believe we must be tough on crime, but we also believe that we must be equally tough on the causes of crime. Punishment, prisons and locking people up longer alone will not solve our problems.

Last week on April 16, I held a forum on crime, gangs and violence in my riding. I invited all of the community to attend. I specifically invited the administrators, teachers and students of all four high schools in Vancouver Kingsway: Windermere, Gladstone, Sir Charles Tupper and Eric Hamber secondary schools. I would like to thank the administrators and staff of these schools for their dedication to their students and the work they do day in and day out that actually helps build and improve those young people's lives.

I held the forum at Windermere High School. We screened a locally made film called Warrior Boyz, a wonderful film directed by Ms. Baljit Sangra and co-produced by the National Film Board. This film was shot in Surrey, British Columbia. It examined the real lives of youth in gangs, at risk and ex-gang members, youth 15 years old, 18 years old and adults. This was a dramatic, sensitive and nuanced look at the lure and realities of gangs to our youth.

After the film we had a vibrant and robust discussion. I listened to the views of the citizens of Vancouver Kingsway. I listened to the voice of teachers. I listened to the voice of parents, the voice of social workers, the voice of ex-gang members and the voice youth. What came out very strongly was that if we truly want to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour, we need to take a balanced, intelligent and caring approach.

We need to strengthen support for families, they said. We need better jobs so that parents can work less and spend more time with their children. We need stronger economic health across the board for all Canadians. We need universal, accessible, affordable, quality day care. We need youth programs and community centres. We need more money and support for our education system to provide programs for music, art, drama and athletic programs to keep our youth active and engaged. We need better access to universities, technical schools and apprenticeships to give our young people hope for the future. We need policies that nurture our youth and adults, not punish them solely.

An ex-gang member came to my forum spontaneously. This was a hardened criminal who had spent many years in prison, and he spoke eloquently. He now actually is reformed and speaks to thousands of youth every week in British Columbia. He spoke of the causes that led him into a life of crime and into gangs. He told us that his was a life of deprivation as a child. He was a victim of domestic abuse. The first hug he said he ever received was from a gang member in a federal penitentiary. His first sense of belonging happened in prison.

What is the message from all of this? The Conservative approach of only cracking down on crime while reducing social supports for our families, our youth, our teachers, our social workers, our workers themselves, is wrong. It will not work. It is not what people across this country or the people who came to my forum want.

What people do want, what they need and what they have a right to is to be safe and secure in our communities, safe and secure from crime, and safe and secure from economic deprivation. Our children have the right to play safely in our schoolyards and parks. Our seniors have the right to walk safely in our streets and in their homes. They also have the right to dignity and a life of economic security. Women have the right to be safe everywhere, at home, at work and in our streets. We all want a Canada that is peaceful and free of guns.

This week has been a strange week in Canadian politics. As the Conservatives claim to get tough on crime, as they say they are cracking down on crime, they are trying desperately to make it easier to own and transport guns in this country. They say they want to reduce crime, but they adopt policies that make families poorer, attack women, do nothing to build stronger social, educational and health supports in Canada.

I will give an example in my riding. The government in its budget, in its so-called economic action plan, refused to increase the funding for the only federal program that supports employment for at-risk youth, kids who left school, kids who are on the street, kids with substance abuse issues, kids in poverty.

This caused the closure of the Baristas program, a wonderful program, in co-operation with Starbucks and the Pacific Community Resources organization, that trains at-risk youth to work in Starbucks. It teaches them money handling skills, customer service skills and organizational skills. This program, which was delivered on Broadway in East Vancouver, shut down two weeks ago because of the government's inaction.

This example shows in stark terms the shortsightedness and fallacy of the Conservative get tough approach. These youth do not need a handout, they need a hand up. They need support.

The government cut this program and wants to jail youth, when there are other ways to make these people secure. Instead, these youth who need help learning how to survive are being turned away from positive directions in this regard and are left with very few alternatives.

The bottom line is healthy, economically secure and supported individuals and families do not turn to crime. While we will never eliminate crime entirely, we need to recognize the clear link between strong social supports and reduced deviant behaviour. New Democrats recognize this, but the government does not.

I am pleased to move the bill forward. As I said at the beginning, we should and do have no tolerance for gangs, guns and violence. We need to express our most serious opprobrium as national legislators. The bill does that.

New Democrats will continue to do our part to get tough on crime. We will also continue to bring the voice of intelligence, compassion and reason to address the causes of crime so all Canadians can move forward in safety and security.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 24th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-14 is another small bill. I will make a couple of comments on the history. We have had a number of pieces of legislation from the government, which are purported to be tough on crime. As the member noted, this is a situation where a crime has to have occurred before the effect of the bill comes into play. It involves mandatory minimum sentencing and conditions under which certain sentencing will occur.

Although Bill C-14 deals with the Criminal Code, in an aspect of dealing with organized crime, it is not a comprehensive solution. This is the problem I have with the bill.

I agree with the bill and I will support it, but I will not support the government's initiative in terms of saying that we have addressed the problems of organized crime.

As I understand it, there is significant argument about mandatory minimums being a deterrent. I very much doubt the people involved with guns, drugs and organized crime are worried about the Criminal Code or look at the penalties to determine whether they will get in or out of the business. It really is ludicrous when we think about it.

On top of that, some of the mandatory minimum sentences seem to be reflective of other issues, whether it is a prohibited weapon or not and that somehow affects it. I asked the justice critic for the Liberal Party whether it really mattered to anybody if a firearm were used in the commission in the crime. I do not care if it is prohibited or not.

Could the member elaborate on this? I agree with him fully that we need a comprehensive approach to deal with organized crime, and prevention must be part of that solution.

Opposition Motion—Gun ControlBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2009 / 11:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I am rising in this House, on behalf of the Liberal caucus, to support the motion tabled today by the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. That member has a long and distinguished career in the area of public safety. He is one of those people here who really knows what must be done to improve public safety and, for example, to fight organized crime, as he did for so many years during his tenure at the Quebec National Assembly. Today, I salute him and I am telling him that the Liberal caucus will support his motion.

I also want to stress the important work done by many Canadians on the very complex issue of gun control. For example, Suzanne Laplante-Edwards, who is the mother of one of the victims of the tragedy at the École Polytechnique, has done a lot to promote gun control. She is in Ottawa today to remind parliamentarians of the importance of supporting measures that will help control guns and increase public safety, and also to remind us of past tragedies that show the importance of continuing to fight to improve all these measures, which are so critical to ensure public safety. Gun control and the gun registry are undoubtedly two initiatives that help us achieve these goals.

I want to be very clear. Liberals will be supporting this motion tabled by our colleague for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. We believe gun control and the firearms registry are essential elements in the effort to improve public safety across Canada. However, Liberals also recognize that there are persons across the country and in rural communities such as the ones I represent who legitimately use firearms, non-prohibited weapons, for sporting purposes, hunting and target practice.

We recognize and respect that some Canadians have a legitimate need for firearms, but they must also recognize that the legitimate need to protect public safety and to follow the advice of Canada's front-line police officers and police chiefs across the country requires that all firearms need to be part of an effective firearms registry that serves as an essential element of the police officers' work to protect public safety.

In a question a few moments ago, I think my colleague for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine reminded the House of a very important document that was sent to our leader by the Canadian Police Association, a group that represents 57,000 front-line police officers. The elected president of this association wrote to the leader of the Liberal Party on April 7 and asked the Liberal Party to continue to support the firearms registry. He asked members of our party and members of Parliament in other parties to oppose Bill S-5, currently sitting in the Senate, and to oppose Bill C-301, a very irresponsible private member's bill that sits on the order paper of the House.

I want to quote from the letter from the Canadian Police Association, where the elected president said:

It would be irresponsible to suspend or abandon any element of [Canada's firearms program]

In 2008, police services used the firearms registry, on average, 9,400 times a day. They consulted the firearms registry over 3.4 million times last year alone. In that year, 2008, they conducted an inquiry of the firearms registry on over 2 million individuals and did over 900,000 address checks at the firearms registry.

Another organization that in our view is eminently qualified, more so than government members of Parliament, to speak on the issue of public safety is the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. In a letter sent to our leader on March 9, they also said they were asking members of Parliament to oppose Bill C-301 and to maintain the registration of all firearms.

That is precisely the thrust of the motion tabled today in this House. It is important to maintain the integrity of the gun registry and to end the amnesty which, in our opinion, has watered down the integrity of the registry, something which certainly does not help public safety.

The government across the way claims to be interested in public safety. Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you have often seen cabinet ministers and government members wanting to be photographed with police officers. These people make announcement on various bills, or on amendments to the Criminal Code. We often see police officers standing behind the minister announcing such changes to the Criminal Code.

It is obvious that Conservative members view the support of police officers as something symbolic, but also very important for their so-called improvements to the Criminal Code. However, when these same officers, through the duly elected officials representing their associations, ask them to put a stop to a policy which, in their opinion, is irresponsible and goes against the goal shared—I hope—by all members in this House, namely to improve public safety, government members do not agree with the people with whom they had their picture taken just weeks earlier.

There is no doubt, in our view, that extending the amnesty poses a threat to public safety. That is why we will oppose the idea of extending or renewing the amnesty.

If we think about the whole idea of an amnesty with respect to a Criminal Code provision, it is a rather bizarre way to make criminal law in the country. For a government to simply decide that it will suspend the application of a particular section of the Criminal Code or another criminal law is, to me, not a very courageous or legitimate way to make public law in Canada.

If the government had the courage to table a bill in this House that would do what so many government members in their speeches or in their questions and comments claim they want it to do, it knows very well that the bill would be defeated. What does the government do? It signs an order in council or a minister simply directs crown prosecutors that, for this or that reason, for a period of time they should not enforce the criminal legislation.

That is as irresponsible as deciding that the sections of the Criminal Code, for example, that apply to impaired driving would be suspended for two weeks around Christmas. It is the same sort of notion that the government can tell prosecutors or justice officials that we are going to provide an amnesty.

Earlier we heard members claiming that this was only so that firearms owners would come forward and voluntarily choose to register their firearms. If that were the original intention of the one year amnesty when it was announced almost three years ago, why was there a need to continually renew it? The reason the amnesty was renewed is because the Prime Minister has made it very clear that he does not support effective gun control in Canada and he wants to find a way to do what he cannot do legislatively in this House, which is to weaken the firearms registry that is so important for public safety.

The government's true agenda with respect to gun control and public safety is found in two measures. It is found in private member's Bill C-301. The government likes to say that it is a private member's bill but it is the first time I have seen the Prime Minister address a large gathering of persons in front of the media and urge members of Parliament to support a private member's bill, as the Prime Minister did in support of Bill C-301.

However, when the Prime Minister's office realized that it was an irresponsible and appalling piece of legislation, which, for example, as my colleagues have identified, would allow people to transport automatic weapons such as machine guns through neighbourhoods on their way to a target range, it then said that the government would not support the bill on the same day the Prime Minister publicly called upon members of Parliament to vote for it. However, as a way to sort of recoup the embarrassment, the government then presented in the other place Bill S-5.

It is pretty transparent why the government did that. It is because it does not have the courage to move legislation in this House of Commons that would weaken public safety and compromise the safety of police officers and Canadians by weakening gun control measures across the country.

The government likes to use this issue to try to drive a wedge between rural and urban Canada and has done so on many occasions.

I have been fortunate enough to be elected four times in a rural riding in New Brunswick. The largest town in my riding is probably Sackville, which has about 5,000 people. The rest of my riding consists of small towns or unincorporated areas that do not have a municipal government.

So I have been elected four times in a rural riding and I have visited hunting and fishing clubs there. Where I live, in the Grande-Digue area of New Brunswick, the local hunting and fishing club organizes a community lunch once a month on Sunday morning. I have gone to it many times.

It is not true that our position in favour of registering all firearms means we are against the legitimate use of hunting rifles in parts of the country where hunting is a common sport.

The Prime Minister tries to use this issue to divide people. I can assure the House that the Liberal Party fully respects the legitimate use of firearms, whether for sport or by people who simply collect guns. We also value the lives of the people who are responsible for ensuring the safety of Canadians all across the country, including in rural areas, and who want us to keep the firearms registry.

The idea that rural areas are safe from threats to public safety and tragedies involving guns is also not realistic. Just a few months ago in the town in Shediac, where I have my riding office, someone died as a result of a crime. Three people entered a house and killed a young man with a hunting rifle. Criminal charges were laid a few weeks ago and the case is now before the New Brunswick courts.

Public safety definitely matters to people in the town of Shediac, New Brunswick, on the banks of the Northumberland Strait, just as it interests people in such big Canadian cities as Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg or Montreal. We are all affected by measures to improve public safety, but it is in the interests of us all to preserve a balance between the legitimate use of firearms and the need to have a full and complete registry that is used more than 9,400 times a day by Canadian police officers who need to consult the registry for their own protection and to conduct criminal investigations.

The Liberals are interested and will always be interested in ways to improve the registration process for firearms. We acknowledge that over a number of years there have been some improvements but there can continue to be ways to make registration easier and simpler for those who legitimately have firearms that are not prohibited weapons for legitimate purposes.

To have an interest in seeing how we can improve the firearms registry for those who apply to have firearms registered is as legitimate as the desire to want to preserve the integrity of the firearms registry and not allow an amnesty, which is an irresponsible back door measure to do what the government does not have the courage to do legislatively, which is weaken the firearms registry across the country.

We spend a lot of time in the House talking about public safety and about ways improve criminal legislation. We have seen a number of examples where Liberals have worked with other parties in the House and the government to make amendments to the Criminal Code that will improve public safety.

Yesterday, the House passed Bill C-25 at second reading and it will now go before the justice committee. That was important because it would reduce the two for one remand credit which will improve public confidence in the justice system. We also supported Bills C-14 and C-15. Yesterday evening, I, along with my colleague who chairs the justice committee and committee members, passed Bill C-14 without amendment and it will be referred back to the House. That bill attacks some of the difficult problems of organized crime. It would the police increased ability to lay criminal charges to deal with some of the tragedies in some of the difficult situations that we have seen in places like Vancouver.

On this side of the House, the Liberals are very interested in working in ways that are responsible, balanced and recognize the importance of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms but we also recognize that the Criminal Code needs to be modernized and strengthened and to give police officers and prosecutors the tools they need to preserve and improve public safety.

One of those tools is a national system of gun control. Canadians across the country support the idea that there should be effective gun control measures in the country. Much to the chagrin of Conservative members, that includes, in the opinion of police officers and police chiefs, the registration of all firearms in Canada as an essential tool in the pursuit of improved public safety.

Our hon. colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin was right to introduce this motion and we intend to support it.

We will be supporting this motion when it comes before the House for a vote because we will not play the games that the Conservative Party wants to play in pretending that this is a great divide between rural and urban Canada.

I stand before the House, as a member elected in a rural riding, as living proof that the people in my riding support effective gun control measures and understand that when the police officers across the country say to us that this is one of many tools they need to improve public safety, we should be careful before acting in an irresponsible way that would diminish and reduce something that I think we all share as a desire to have safer communities, safer homes and safer streets all across the country.

Opposition Motion—Gun ControlBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2009 / 11:50 a.m.
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Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, we have spoken on several occasions already this morning on not only the effects of the registry, or the non-effects of the registry, but also on the fact that we believe there needs to be stronger measures taken to combat crime in Canada.

I would ask the member, knowing that he is a long time member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, about an amendment that was brought forward in the justice committee. Yesterday, at the justice committee, the Bloc moved an amendment to take out the mandatory minimum penalties for drive-by shootings and other reckless shootings in Bill C-14, which the committee is examining. The NDP supported the Bloc amendment. Obviously, it goes without saying that had this amendment passed, it would have seriously weakened the intent of the bill, but with the support of the Liberals, that amendment was not approved.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague from the NDP, why did the NDP decide to support a Bloc amendment that would take out the mandatory minimum penalties for drive-by shootings?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 26th, 2009 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raised the question of delay of crime bills. I want to ask him if he feels that the Prime Minister was delaying crime bills, since there has not been a government bill in front of the justice committee for over a year now. The reason has been that, first, the Conservative chair of that committee at the time refused to let the committee function. Then we had the election call by the Prime Minister, who then prorogued Parliament, and we are still waiting.

As recently as Monday, Bill C-14, the gang bill, could have been before the House.

I am wondering if he feels that, on each of those occasions, his party and the representatives of his party were delaying the advance of crime bills in this legislature.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.
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Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the House that I am splitting my time with the hon. member for Surrey North. She has already delivered her 10-minute speech, so my speech will be for 10 minutes.

I would also like to thank our Minister of Justice for having made an excellent point today that finally we have arrived at continuing the debate on Bill C-14, an anti-crime measure against organized crime.

I want to remind Canadians of what actually happened today. We are just finishing three hours of debate on a concurrence motion, wasted time when it comes to what we are trying to talk about, which is anti-crime measures. What happened earlier today is that the opposition parties—

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not arguing that. What I argue is when it came time to vote whether the debate on the concurrence motion should continue for three more hours, the Liberal Party, the Bloc and the NDP all voted in favour to extend it, which delayed further debate on this bill.

What happened is our Minister of Justice stood and shamed the opposition members by drawing to the attention of Canadians that they were delaying the furtherance of this crime bill. Finally, they relented and agreed that Bill C-14 would pass by the end of today. Therefore, I thank our justice minister for having taken that initiative.

I am happy to have the opportunity to speak in strong support of Bill C-14, which proposes changes to the Criminal Code to strengthen our responses to organized crime. Like many Canadians, I have been deeply disturbed by the rash of violence linked to organized crime, and in particular street gangs, and I am pleased that our government has taken this important step towards fortifying our Criminal Code regime in its capacity to respond to such violence.

This bill proposes changes in four areas, and I will briefly discuss each of them in turn. The first area relates to murders. The proposed amendments would make all murders committed in close connection with organized crime automatically first degree, regardless of whether the murder was planned and deliberate.

This bill proposes amendments to section 231 of the Criminal Code to specify that murder is first degree, regardless of whether it was planned and deliberate, when it is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization, or when it is committed while the offender commits another indictable offence for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization.

Murder carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and those convicted of first degree murder are ineligible for parole for at least 25 years. In the case of second degree murder, they are ineligible for parole for at least 10 years. Section 231 of the Criminal Code sets out the circumstances in which murder is considered to be first degree. It also states that all murder that is not first degree murder is second degree murder.

I believe these will be very useful provisions, because they will give law enforcement two separate ways to target murders connected to organized crime. These two separate ways cover the broad range of circumstances where murders might occur in the context of organized crime activity.

Bill C-14 also addresses drive-by and other reckless shootings. It proposes to prohibit the intentional discharge of a firearm in circumstances where the shooter turned their mind to the fact that firing the gun could put the life or safety of another person at risk—say in a building, or in an open space—and consciously ran the risk. This offence would be different from the existing, and comparably serious, discharge of a firearm offence in section 244 because it does not require proof that the shooter specifically intended to cause bodily harm to a person. This is something which I understand can be difficult to prove in certain cases and may not be the case at all when the shooter is firing wildly for the purpose of general intimidation. This new offence would be punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty that would increase when the offence is committed for the benefit of a criminal organization or if a prohibited or restricted firearm is used.

I am optimistic that this new offence will assist us in responding to the increasingly brazen violence committed by gangs on the street with firearms.

The third focus of this bill is providing increased protection to peace officers and responding to violence committed against other justice system participants. It does this by creating two new offences to punish assaults against peace officers that cause bodily harm or involve the use of a weapon and aggravated assaults against peace officers. These offences would be punishable, on indictment, by maximum periods of imprisonment of 10 and 14 years, respectively.

To ensure that these cases are adequately punished, the bill would require courts to give primary consideration to the principles of denunciation and deterrence when sentencing an offender for any of the offences involving assaults against peace officers, as well as cases involving the intimidation of justice system participants, such as judges, prosecutors, jurors, witnesses and others. This sends the right message and will assist in ensuring that the sentences in these cases properly reflect the serious nature of this conduct.

The fourth area of reform in the bill relates to the strengthening of the gang peace bond provision. These proposed amendments will clarify that when issuing a preventive recognizance order, a judge can impose any conditions that he or she feels are desirable to prevent the person from committing a criminal organization offence.

The amendments would also extend the possible length of the order to up to 24 months if the defendant had been previously convicted of a criminal organization offence. These orders are intended to impose conditions where it is reasonably feared that a person will commit a criminal organization offence, a terrorism offence or the offence of intimidation of justice system participants. A breach of the conditions is a separate offence, subject to prosecution, with a maximum penalty of two years on indictment.

These are important tools because they seek to prevent the commission of organized crime offences before they take place. I understand they can be an extremely useful tool for police in controlling gang activity and these amendments will make them all the more effective.

Of course, strong laws to punish offenders are only part of the picture. We must also be focused on addressing the root causes of how and why persons, particularly young people, become involved with organized crime groups. We know people are targeted by gangs for participation in many crimes, particularly drug trafficking. They may rely upon young persons to commit crimes on their behalf because of the belief that if the young offenders are caught, the justice system will be lenient due to the age of the accused. It is also the way that young people are recruited into the gangs.

Young people, however, are drawn to criminal groups, including street gangs, for a variety of reasons, one of which is to have a sense of belonging for companionship, protection, to be treated with what they see as respect or for money. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada has noted that virtually all street gangs in Canada are comprised of both youth and adult members and associates. Youth gangs also represent distinct entities with approximately 6% of all identified street gangs being comprised of persons under the age of 18.

It is important that we provide young people, particularly vulnerable youth, with alternatives to prevent their involvement in crime. The government has allocated $64 million as part of a national anti-drug strategy to support law enforcement in its efforts to combat the drug trade, and this will be of benefit to our youth.

We all share a commitment to making our communities and the people who live in them safe. Each and every person should feel safe to walk down our streets. This government has made the safety and security of Canadians a priority. This bill is a reflection of that and is a firm but fair response to the threat of organized crime.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 1:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will be uncharacteristically brief. We do not want any delay in the bill going from this place to committee. As parties, we all stood unanimously and agreed that Bill C-14 should be sent to committee. The Minister of Justice did not seem to comprehend that when he used precious time in the chamber for a diatribe that was irrelevant.

The only delay today on Bill C-14 was that speech, which consisted of reading the bill. We have done that already. Ten minutes or so has been wasted by the member. Let us get the bill out of the House. We are all for it. Does he not agree?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 1:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must admit that the last few minutes did not make a very eloquent contribution to the current debate. The problem is settled and I would have liked the Minister of Justice to hear this. I hope that he will listen to what I am going to say. My colleagues opposite are not very knowledgeable about parliamentary procedure. That is the least I can say given these circumstances, so as not to offend them even more.

Mr. Speaker, I have not had the opportunity to greet you. I knew you as Chair of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. This is the first time that I have risen to speak in this chamber when you were presiding over the deliberations. I want to congratulate you on your appointment to the position of Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and thank you for the work you did as Chair of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. I hope, and am in fact convinced, that the work you are doing here now will also be very productive, especially during the kind of debate we are having today.

We are debating Bill C-14. Our Conservative friends made this a top priority in the fight against organized crime, something they seem to think has only appeared in the last few years. Unfortunately, I will have to give them a history lesson. Memory is well known as that faculty which forgets, and the Conservatives probably have the shortest memory on record. We should remember that the Bloc Québécois, since 1994—not just for the past two weeks—has been informing this House of the fact that there is a serious problem with organized crime and that steps need to be taken. Several were taken thanks to our efforts.

In spite of what the Conservatives will be saying, if not for the Bloc Québécois, thousand dollar bills would still be in circulation. The Bloc Québécois forced the government to make that change. I do not want to attack the Conservatives or the Liberals, but the fact is that governments finally understood that thousand dollar bills were causing an increase in organized crime and in money laundering. I can talk about this not because I have had several thousand dollar bills in my possession, but because before my election in 2004, I was a criminal lawyer for 30 years. I practised criminal law for the defence and I am very familiar with the organized crime file.

Whether the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles likes it or not, the measures put in place are the result of repeated requests by the Bloc Québécois. The hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, who sits on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as parliamentary secretary, does not seem to have known about this before 2000. We have known about it since 1990. It seems to me that he lives in Quebec, but he did not know about it either. It took some time for them to recognize the existence of organized crime. Now everyone knows who the Hells Angels are. We know a little about how its members are recruited and how we can combat these organized gangs, whether the Bandidos or the Hells Angels. It is easier for us, and I am choosing my words carefully, to understand how these organizations work.

However, we are facing a new phenomenon. Whether my Conservative friends, including the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, admit it or not, street gangs have existed for at least five or six years now. They have never understood that. For them, street gangs are the same as the Hells Angels. That is not the case. Streets gangs are a new phenomenon, and a growing concern. Whether in Vancouver, Toronto, in the east end of Montreal, even in Halifax and many other places in Canada, idleness is a phenomenon that is triggering senseless crimes. That is what they really are: senseless crimes.

First there was the mafia—and we need not look back at the godfather—with people killing each other. We could understand, follow and watch how it worked, but street gangs are completely different.

Street gangs might decide that tonight, they are going to shoot at anyone wearing black. Street gangs operate differently. They are radically changing how we see and deal with crime.

I want to say right away that we will support Bill C-14, despite its flaws. We will ask that it be studied in committee. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, on which I also sit, has already begun looking at organized crime. We will take a very close look at the new phenomena around organized crime as we study Bill C-14.

The bill is important, because it redefines murder. I feel that part should be clarified, such as the fact that a contract killing is not an ordinary murder. I am sorry, I am weighing my words and that is not easy, but murder is murder. Murder itself is bad enough. But contract killings, gratuitous murders, murders to intimidate and murders to send a message are a new and unacceptable phenomenon, and I think it is time we took action.

These new definitions in subsection 231(6.01) will be important, because they will go further. That is the purpose of the bill: to make murder committed for the benefit of or at the direction of a criminal organization first degree murder.

Let us think back to what used to happen. It has not been so very long since I was a criminal defence lawyer. We made deals and tried to find solutions so that an individual got off. We said a killing was murder, but that it could be considered second degree murder because it was not premeditated. That will no longer be possible. We are going to close that door, which allowed a person to put a contract out on someone, I am sorry to put it that way. I do not like that sort of language either, but I use it and we all know what it means.

We are finally going to close that door in the Criminal Code. That will put an end to the dilemma around criminal organizations and the people associated with them. We will at least close that door. The same thing will hold true for murders committed during an attempt to commit an indictable offence, and we will have a chance to look closely at that. That will target criminal gangs. We will be able to deal with criminal gangs and hit them with heavier penalties.

Now here is where I must plug my message. The Conservatives do not yet understand this. They really do not understand this and, once again, Bill C-14 must be looked at carefully, because minimum prison sentences will not solve the problem of crime. I want to repeat this, so it can be properly translated into English and so they understand clearly. Imposing minimum prison sentences will not reduce crime. That is exactly what the Americans did and crime rates skyrocketed. Convicted offenders must serve their prison sentences.

As someone I know has said, the problem is not when offenders go to prison; it is when they come out. They get out too quickly. The problem is that the Conservatives are telling themselves and everyone has said that this does not make sense. Someone can be sentenced to 18 months, but get out of prison in two months. That is unacceptable. The Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice need to have a chat. As far as I know, they are in the same political party. But they need to talk to each other, because something must be done about the parole system.

I know a bill is to be introduced tomorrow. We will have to wait and see what is in that bill. We think it is important to eliminate the two-for-one provision. We know what this means, but we can debate that another time.

For the time being, the Conservatives must realize that we need to do something about parole to ensure that an accused sentenced after a fair trial serves his sentence, does not get any goodies and does not get out earlier because of good behaviour.

I have some examples. That is the problem with Bill C-14. It calls for a minimum prison term of four years. There would still be plea bargaining to reduce the sentence and change the charges. That is not the right solution. We will examine it in committee; it is an interesting bill in that regard. We will see how we can ensure that the sentences handed down—and it is not a question of giving the judges a set of directives—are served.

There are many other amendments in the bill. There are some minor, but interesting, changes. We will definitely be targeting organized crime as well as street gangs. We will probably have to rethink the interception of communications because, with respect to organized crime, there has been no change in the past 10 to 15 years in ways of intercepting communications. Because of the Internet and all the changes in that time, police have asked for amendments.

I do not wish to speak much longer, but Bill C-14 is truly interesting. The light has gone on for the government, but it still has a long way to go before understanding that crime will not be reduced when offenders enter jail or by imposing minimum mandatory sentences, but rather by having offenders serve the sentences handed down. That is the important point. However, this will probably be the subject of another debate.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 1:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I am pleased to remind hon. members opposite that they are in a minority government. They have to understand that. It would at least be a step in the right direction. Second, when you are in a minority government, you try to work with the opposition parties to move matters forward. Bill C-14 is the best example.

If the government knew what common sense was, it would, at 9:00 a.m. this morning, have sat down with the opposition parties and asked them if they were in agreement. We are in agreement that the bill should be sent to committee. This is why debate in this House is being limited. The government must understand. It is a minority government and it is having a little difficulty understanding that.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 1:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague the member for Hochelaga, an extraordinary leader at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, gifted with a composure that will undoubtedly serve him well in his future endeavours. Personally, I would be very disappointed to lose him, should he go.

That being said, I think that there is a blatant lack of communication within the Conservative Party. If the Minister of Justice, rather than behaving in this way—my colleague is perfectly right—had spoken to his whip, things would not have come to this pass and this little crisis, which lasted 10 or 15 minutes, would have been averted. This does not reflect well on the image of a minister of justice.

That said, it is important that we be given the proposals ahead of time, and that we also move forward with Bill C-14, which will be referred to committee within a few minutes.