Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to offer my strong support for Bill C-31, which would amend the Criminal Code and other acts, in order to make our justice system more efficient.
To fight crime and ensure the safety of Canadians, we need a justice system that reflects our reality, that allows us to use technology effectively, that adapts to scientific advances, to changes in the nature of evidence and scientific procedures, and that operates as efficiently as possible, while still remaining fair and equitable.
This bill is another concrete measure that demonstrates our government's ongoing commitment to fighting crime in the most effective and advanced way possible.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister of Justice for his continued efforts and for recognizing that making minor changes and reforming outdated procedures can also make a difference.
I would also like to take this opportunity to look at what effect some of these proposals would have on the work of the public servants who also help provide security and protection for Canadians.
Public officers are not police officers. Their primary responsibility is the enforcement of non-criminal offences covered by federal legislation other than the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. One proposed amendment would give public officers the same authority as police to deal with goods seized under section 489.1, bearing in mind that they both have the same authority to conduct searches.
At present, subsection 489.1(1), which deals with the return of seized goods, only applies to peace officers and allows them to return the goods seized directly to a person when there is no dispute as to ownership of the goods and if the goods do not need to be kept as evidence.
Subsection 489.1(2) applies to anyone who is not a peace officer and requires that they bring the goods seized before a justice of the peace or that they retain them until the justice orders that they be returned to the lawful owner.
Under these sections, a peace officer can seize an item in situ, or on the spot, in order to examine it and return it to the owner, if he is convinced that the item need not be retained as evidence.
In the same circumstances, a public officer exercising his authority under section 487 would have to bring the item before a justice or retain it until it can be reported to a justice or until the justice authorizes its return. In situ seizure under a warrant is becoming an increasingly common practice in a regulatory context because search warrants are used to investigate quasi-criminal matters often pertaining to equipment that is impossible to move in an industrial workplace or similar setting.
Another amendment would specify that the peace officer or public officer who fills out report 5.2, the report to a justice of the peace, can have another person file it under subsection 489.1(1). When the peace officer has seized items and has subsequently returned them to the lawful owner, he must report it to a justice of the peace, on Criminal Code form 5.2.
This addition will save a great deal of time for an administration that has employees in the court house, because they will be in a position to file the documents in question rather than the peace officer or public officer who completed them.
The bill also includes a new provision that will permit the release of any items seized by the police for scientific examination before the trial. The current provisions allow for the release of such items for scientific examination only at the trial stage, which often delays the trial, and is particularly difficult and inefficient in cases of trial by jury.
The new provision will allow items seized to be released before the trial with the court's permission and on the condition that appropriate measures are taken to ensure that they are properly preserved.
The provisions of the Criminal Code regarding prize fights must also be amended in order to exclude legitimate amateur sports, specifically, karate, judo, tae kwon do and wushu, which have emerged since the last amendment in 1932. Some of these sports are included in the International Olympic Committee program, which means that the international, national and provincial sports organizations in question are dedicated to the values and requirements of the IOC in matters of safety. From now on, amateur sports included in the IOC program will be excluded from the definition of “prize fighting” and the provinces can impose conditions on holding fights for these sports if they so choose.
Furthermore, the provinces could exclude any other amateur sport from the application of section 83 and could also impose conditions on holding fights for these sports. These amendments are the result of extensive consultations with the provinces and territories in 2003 and 2004, as well as consultations with national sports organizations at various times since 1998 when the issue was first brought to the government's attention.
In addition, amendments to the pari-mutuel provisions will clarify the federal government's responsibility for permitting and monitoring legitimate pari-mutuel betting on horse races. These amendments will eliminate the unnecessary power to limit the number of races on which bets can be placed at a race-course in Canada. The amendments will also allow race-courses to harmonize their method of calculating payouts with others in the “foreign race pool” when they accept bets on horse races that take place outside of Canada.
These amendments will enable Canadians to place lower bets than what is currently permitted, which will improve their chances of winning without having to spend more money.
The bill also contains an amendment to better preserve the impartiality of jurors by allowing the court to exclude jurors—on application or on its own motion—from the court room in the case of a challenge for cause. Currently, only the defence can make such an application.
This bill also amends telewarrant provisions. For example, three changes will be made to the current telewarrant system. First, the convenience criterion has been removed, except for telewarrants requested orally—in other words, by means of telecommunication that does not produce a writing. Second, access to telewarrants will be expanded. Third, public officers will now be permitted to use telewarrants.
We have also proposed eliminating the convenience criterion in the case of requests submitted in writing because of technological progress and the reliability of modern means of telecommunication. The telewarrant system enables more efficient use of justice system resources, especially the police. These amendments will save time by making it unnecessary for police officers to go to court to submit a warrant request in person, thereby giving them more time to spend on investigations.
With respect to oral telewarrants, our provincial and territorial partners have observed that requiring police officers to express their reasons in writing promotes the provision of complete and well-organized information for the judge's consideration.
It will now be possible to obtain the following warrants: warrants respecting the seizure of weapons, ammunition and explosive devices; search and seizure warrants in offences related to gambling, betting and stolen minerals; production orders for documents and business records; tracking warrants; and warrants with respect to number recorders.
Police and public officials could request a greater number of warrants by using this process, which would no doubt be beneficial to them. This will be particularly useful for federal public officials, who would otherwise have to make special arrangements in order to show up in person at various locations across the country to secure warrants. This makes the job easier.
This bill also proposes reclassifying certain Criminal Code offences as hybrid offences. This reclassification would convert an offence punishable by summary conviction or indictment under the Criminal Code into a hybrid offence. This allows the prosecution to proceed either by indictment or by summary conviction, whichever it deems most suitable under the circumstances of the case.
We feel that these changes are necessary and quite useful since they give the prosecution more latitude by allowing it to choose the most appropriate procedure for the case at hand. This will considerably simplify the administration of justice and deliver on the government's commitment to make Canada's criminal justice system more efficient.
I would also like to mention that reclassification has no impact on the seriousness of the offences in question. All it does—and I want to stress this—is allow the Crown to choose the procedure for prosecuting the alleged offender. For example, a criminal offence that becomes a hybrid offence can still be prosecuted by indictment if, under the circumstances, a more complex procedure, including a preliminary inquiry and a jury trial, is warranted. However, when the facts of the case do not warrant the full procedure or a heavier penalty, it is possible to prosecute the offence by summary conviction.
It is important that the procedure used reflect the seriousness of the offence and that we make the best use of the court's time and resources. Reclassification offers greater flexibility, making it possible to choose the most appropriate procedure under the circumstances and to increase the efficiency of our criminal justice system. The defence will still have the right to a preliminary inquiry or a jury trial where a full procedure is warranted.
This bill also includes changes to the expert witness regime. Once again, these changes are necessary because the time currently set out in the Criminal Code for communicating expert reports is sometimes not enough to allow the other party to respond appropriately to what is frequently becoming complex and highly technical evidence.
To respond to expert witness evidence, it is generally necessary to find and hire an expert in the particular field, brief that person on the case, obtain transcripts and so on. The changes make various improvements to the regime. First, to encourage compliance with the notice requirements in the Criminal Code, the bill provides for a mandatory 10-day adjournment if these requirements are not met. Second, so that all the parties are prepared to respond to expert evidence, the bill provides for a discretionary adjournment when the notice requirements have been met, but the other party has not had enough time to prepare.
Third, the Criminal Code will contain a list of factors the court must consider in deciding whether to grant an adjournment or to lengthen or shorten an adjournment that has already been granted. These factors are meant to reflect the challenges associated with a trial involving expert testimony.
Lastly, the court will have to explain if it refuses to grant an adjournment or reduce the period of adjournment. The new measures will also help the courts in rendering decisions. These changes would enable the courts to make enlightened decisions that are adapted to different cases of non-compliance and would encourage parties to adhere to the notice provisions.
These changes will not generate any additional obligations on the defence. Both parties' obligations will remain the same. The changes would simply improve the expert evidence regime in the Criminal Code to ensure that the parties can respond appropriately to the expert testimony, by providing new measures that the court can take if there is insufficient time, and to encourage parties to adhere to the notice provisions in the Criminal Code.
We know that the Identification of Criminals Act does not authorize police officers to fingerprint or photograph individuals in lawful custody until they have been charged or convicted, which often results in unnecessary delays.
Some people have called for the enforcement of this legislation to be simplified and clarified. That is what our proposed changes would do. The proposed amendments would streamline this process by adding the authority to fingerprint and photograph an individual who is in lawful custody following an arrest, but not yet charged.
For example, if the individual is not charged with an offence, if the charges are dropped or if the individual is acquitted, we know that many police forces destroy fingerprints and photographs at the request of the person involved, if the person is not found guilty. The courts have ruled that it is not unreasonable for police forces to retain fingerprints if no request is made for them to be destroyed or returned after charges are dropped.
I have listed some examples covered by this bill. It is important to note that the bill includes about 40 amendments that will all help improve, streamline and modernize our justice system. I urge all members to fully support this bill.