Mr. Speaker, we have agreed with many of the bills introduced recently in the House.
The Minister of Justice is always saying that it is the opposition's fault that his bills take so long to pass. He is lying outright, and this is a case in point. Here is a bill meant to fill a gap identified by the Supreme Court of Canada in October 2006. I believe the Conservatives were in power in October 2006. It took them three years to draft a bill to respond to that Supreme Court ruling, as its title indicates.
The government introduced an initial bill in October 2009. Then it prorogued Parliament, thereby killing the bill. So the government had to introduce it again. When the House resumed, the government did not introduce the bill right away. There is not one iota of difference between the current Bill C-30 and Bill C-55, which died on the order paper. I did not count the days like my colleague who spoke before me, but the government did not introduce the bill currently before us until May 31, 2010.
And yet the minister is always complaining that we delay his bills, that the opposition is preventing him from doing his work again. Just 15 minutes ago, he was in front of the cameras blaming the opposition for once again impeding the progress of his bills. This example is concrete proof that his incompetence and idleness are to blame. At his pace, he would have a hard time winning a race with a bunch of snails.
He introduced his bill on May 31, 2010, and this is the first time he has invited us to debate it in order to refer it to committee. No one can say that the opposition is to blame for the fact that the gap in the Criminal Code identified by the Supreme Court still has not been addressed over four years later.
This government is also in the habit of blaming judges. Not only does it blame them, but it speaks about them insultingly. I will demonstrate that in just a moment, but first, let us see what the Supreme Court decided.
The Supreme Court did not decide that a right should be taken away, contrary to what the parliamentary secretary said in his press releases. The court found that this right never existed and that it was important that it be established through legislation, not by police or the courts. It is up to Parliament.
Clearly, if conditions can be imposed prohibiting offenders from using certain substances, there needs to be some means of monitoring those conditions, even if it is not through testing. That is obvious. It is so obvious that the legislators at the time did not see it and did not provide for the obligation to provide samples.
That is what the Supreme Court found in 2006. Paragraph 732.1(3)(c), which allows a condition to be imposed that prohibits the use of certain substances, defines a criminal offence. But simply creating an offence does not result in enforcement powers. This is common sense and should have been obvious to the legislators at the time. Even though it is clear that the authority to require samples of a bodily substance and the resulting analyses would help enforce a condition prohibiting the use of certain substances imposed under paragraph 732.1(3)(c), that is not enough to conclude that this authority is implied.
That seems to me to be quite a sensible legal ruling. The court made the following suggestion:
Where Parliament authorizes the collection of bodily samples, it uses clear language and sets out standards and safeguards for collecting these samples.
The court is saying that things should not be done haphazardly.
Parliament has not provided a scheme under s. 732.1(3) for collecting bodily samples and such a scheme cannot be judicially enacted.
The fact that it cannot be judicially enacted is why the government introduced a 16-page bill. The law cannot go messing with people's bodies as it sees fit. There must be assurances that analyses will be carried out medically and correctly. But it is not up to the court to enact that. It is up to Parliament. That is what Parliament was told in 2006. But it was not until 2009 that the Conservatives introduced their first bill. Then they let it die with prorogation. They reintroduced it on May 31, 2010. Then they did not raise the subject again until now. Here we are debating it in December 2010, more than four years after the Supreme Court of Canada's comments.
This government is in the habit of demonstrating its scorn for the Canadian judicial system in all kinds of ways. I would like to read from the minister's press release about Bill C-30. In the last paragraph on the first page, it says:
The amendments being introduced today are an effective response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision that made it impossible for law enforcement officials to fully monitor individuals under court order prohibiting them from using drugs or alcohol.
That is not what the court did. The court did not make it impossible. It was not provided for in the law. And the court decided that because it was not provided for, it was not the court's job to determine, in 16 pages, how the samples could be taken to ensure their accuracy or that conclusions could be drawn that might deprive people of their freedom.
We are so proud to be a country that respects rights and freedoms. This is part of how we respect people's freedom. Before putting them in jail on technical evidence, we have to ensure that the evidence is solid.
The Minister of Justice also began criticizing us for another reason recently. He laughed at us because we do not accept his alternative titles. In this case, I can tell him that we will agree with his title, which is “Response to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Shoker Act”. Now that is how to objectively describe, without using propaganda, the bill that is currently before us.
This is one case where he did not fall back into his bad habits. Unfortunately, not all bill titles are like this. The best example is the Minister of Justice's new trick, which involves inserting his campaign propaganda into the legislation. Since he is likely somewhat unsure of the value of the legislation, he starts by spewing his propaganda, which is an insult to the judiciary. One example is Bill C-16, Ending House Arrest for Property and other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders.
Has there ever been a ruling in Canada ordering house arrest for serious and violent offenders? If so, it is contrary to the current legislation, which states: “[if the court] is satisfied that the service of the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community...”
Thus, the first condition for house arrest is that it does not endanger the safety of the community.
That should go without saying. If we stop detaining violent and dangerous offenders and release them, that will jeopardize public safety. The minister never said that that was happening anywhere in Canada. And if this was the case with one out of the thousands and tens of thousands—if not more; I think that the number of sentences handed down every year in Canada is in the six figures—, there is recourse and it can be taken to the Court of Appeal. The case can be appealed on the basis that the offender is violent and dangerous.
It is a ruse, a trap to eliminate more cases in which house arrest could be used. The Conservatives do not like house arrest. This happens in almost every country in Europe. It is extremely useful with an offender who has committed a first offence. By imposing some conditions, we can turn them away from crime. We can force them to take courses and support a family, we can impose a curfew, monitor him and impose an addiction treatment if he has a substance abuse problem.
Keep the person at home. It is a lot less expensive and much more effective than sending him to do time, when he will likely lose his job if he has one, interrupt his studies and meet other criminals who will teach him tricks to commit other crimes. We know that prison is not a very good school. In civilized countries, prison is reserved for truly dangerous people. Here, we are following the model used in the United States, a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world: between 730 and 760 incarcerations per 100,000 inhabitants. Our rate is 120 per 100,000. I do not know how much the Conservatives want to increase that number by, but at 120, we are average. Out of 155 countries, we rank about 50th. Our rate is even higher than that of almost every European country, except one country in the United Kingdom.
The bill will take this tool away from judges in first offence cases. When I was public safety minister in Quebec, I was told—and this was consistent with my experience after more than 25 years practising criminal law—that up to 90% of people who are brought before the court are brought there only once in their life. It is the other 10% that causes us major problems.
In any event, we have already said we agree that the Supreme Court was right to shed light on this anomaly. We can prohibit someone from consuming certain substances without giving the court the power to order a technical and scientific verification that the person is complying with these conditions. This is a lot like drinking and driving, a more common crime, and one that is even committed by people who do not have a criminal record or other criminal behaviour.
When I first started pleading cases, it was quite funny to listen to those cases because police officers had observed, in the accused, the symptoms that the Supreme Court had defined as symptoms of drunkenness in a case in 1926: eyes glazed over, slurred speech, staggering gait. The police would say that the accused was staggering and his speech was slurred and that was how they established whether a person was drunk or not. It was rather ridiculous and that is why we were finally able to get objective evidence with the breathalyzer. There has been a dramatic drop since this objective measure has been in place.
In this case, I think this legislation was necessary. Personally, I think six months should have been plenty of time to draft such a bill following the Supreme Court ruling. It should not take three years to do so. The minister, who is supposedly thinking of the potential victims, could have sped things up a little. Fortunately, he has no problem tooting his own horn. He concluded his November 30 news release by saying that the government, “is standing up for victims of crime, and putting the rights of law-abiding citizens ahead of the rights of criminals”.
I do not know why he said that. It must have been out of habit. In this case, the provision was suggested by the Supreme Court, which he does not like. I do not see how this puts the rights of law-abiding citizens up against the rights of criminals. In any case, nearly all sentences that come with probation orders do in fact include abstinence conditions.
I do not believe that all of these people are criminals. Indeed, just because someone commits a single offence or has a drug problem at one time in his life does not make him a criminal for the rest of his days. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that if an abstinence condition is imposed because the offender has a drug problem, there should be some scientific way to verify his compliance. If it were obvious—