Mr. Speaker, I want to start by clarifying for the people of Kootenay—Columbia and those watching across Canada that this Bill C-51 is not Bill C-51 from the 41st Parliament, which was called the anti-terrorism bill. That bill led to widespread protests across my riding of Kootenay—Columbia. People were concerned about the potential to make peaceful protests illegal and the potential impact on their personal privacy rights. Because the NDP is going to support this Bill C-51, in the 42nd Parliament, I did not want there to be any confusion back home.
Regarding the bill before us, we are pleased to support this legislation. We believe that it would provide many overdue protections, particularly for victims of sexual assault. One of the most important provisions in this legislation would clarify the definition of consent. Some of this should be obvious. It should be common sense. In fact, I am appalled that we need to entrench this in law, but here it is. With this amendment, an unconscious person could not be considered to have given consent. There it would be now, spelled out in black and white in the Criminal Code of Canada: someone who was passed out from intoxication, from a blow to the head, or for whatever reason would not be able to consent to sexual activity. Good. While it is outrageous that any other interpretation was ever understood, at least we, as lawmakers, are now making it perfectly clear.
The bill also takes another important step on the issue of consent. A person who is passive during sexual assault, that is, does not scream, “no”, or fight or otherwise resist, cannot be considered to be automatically giving consent. This is necessary and it is overdue. Too often, an individual, unduly pressured or even physically overcome during a sexual assault, will feel fear, confusion, or even peer pressure and will be unable to enunciate his or her refusal. This amendment shifts the burden to the other person to get clear and active consent. To quote University of Ottawa associate professor of law Carissima Mathen, “Passivity is not consent. Consent has to be communicated to you in some meaningful way, not from being quiet.”
That statement is borne out by statistics in a Global News/Ipsos Reid poll. The most recent common reason women gave for not reporting a sexual assault to the police was feeling young and powerless; 56% of victims said so. Forty per cent of respondents said they stayed silent because of the shame they felt, and 29% said they blamed themselves for the assault. Others worried that reporting would bring dishonour to their families, feared retaliation from their attacker, or said they did not have faith in the criminal justice system. New definitions will help clarify the term for the courts, but they do not do enough.
Too often, victims of sexual assault find themselves isolated by the courts. They have no one to protect them from aggressive questioning by a defence attorney and no one to be their advocate. Sometimes there are poorly trained judges, as we learned last year when a judge demanded of a victim why she could not just keep her knees together while she was sexually assaulted. That horrific and shocking statement led to condemnation across the country and the resignation, rightfully, of the judge who made that statement.
Rather than treating victims with care and compassion, our justice system sometimes victimizes them all over again. The solution would be to ensure that victims have access to legal aid as they go through the court process. The current Liberal government must not choose to ignore that essential element in protecting victims.
This legislation also includes the removal of some so-called zombie laws. Those laws, which have become redundant because of other laws that cover the same subject or because they have been overturned by the courts, are an interesting collection. As a former mayor, I know that there are many municipalities with zombie bylaws that need cleaning up as well. Federally, we now no longer have to worry about the detrimental effect of crime comics on our youth. We have many other negative influences to worry about. Similarly, a law banning Canadians from offering a reward for the return of stolen property, no questions asked, seems unnecessary and even detrimental in its own right. I know I personally used that approach to get back my son's stolen mountain bike once, without even knowing it was against the law, as is the case, I am sure, for many Canadians.
One must wonder about the existing laws regarding the practice of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, or conjuration. In addition to the fact that it impinges on the rights of some religions, and would confuse the U.S. President who is certain that he is the target of a witch hunt, this might also hurt Harry Potter cosplayers; Dungeons and Dragons "larpers", which I do not know much about but which my staff assure me is a thing; and others for whom sorcery is an entertainment. This is a good law to be rid of.
My favourite among this group of zombie laws is the prohibition on duelling. After all, we stand in a place where the two sides of the House are separated by two sword lengths to ensure we fence only with words and not with rapiers. Still, the last public duelling in Canada took place not far from here in Perth, Ontario, in June 1833, when 23-year-old law student John Wilson shot and killed his friend Robert Lyon, age 20, during a duel over the honour of Elizabeth Hughes, a young school teacher.
Wilson successfully pleaded his case in court, had a lengthy law career, married Miss Hughes, and eventually became a member of the legislative assembly of the Province Of Canada, the precursor of the House of Commons. In case some members of the House or the public believe that duelling will now be legal, it is worth noting that our homicide laws still apply.
The bill offers some good amendments to the Criminal Code. My biggest concern with the bill is not with its content, but with what is missing.
Across Canada, the Supreme Court decision known as the Jordan ruling has allowed many indicted suspects to go free because of the length of time it has taken to bring them to trial.
Just this week, a judge in Quebec City freed a man accused of sexually assaulting his adolescent stepdaughter. Last November, an Ottawa judge freed a murder suspect under the same terms. In fact, across Canada dozens of suspects, people who have been charged with crimes ranging from first degree homicide to sexual assault, have been freed because our courts do not have the capacity or the will to ensure a speedy trial.
While eliminating zombie laws is important, the government's first priority should be to ensure that our existing criminal laws are upheld by the courts. This means more federal and provincial resources and it may mean new laws to reverse the Jordan ruling.
Another item missing from the bill is a long-promised review of damaging and disingenuous amendments introduced by the previous government. The Conservatives' belief that mandatory minimum sentences will somehow reduce crime has been ridiculed by members of the justice system, from lawyers to judges. We have seen over and over the mandatory minimums getting tossed by judges as unworkable and unconstitutional, just as the New Democratic Party's justice critic warned them would happen during debates over those amendments.
Let us look at recent news.
In 2013, a Manitoba judge heard the case of a young man who lashed out at his bullies. The judge refused to apply the mandatory minimum sentence, saying:
A four-year term would clearly place the accused in the heart of the federal penitentiary system normally reserved for hardened criminals. To say that the conditions of a federal penitentiary would be harsh for someone of the accused’s background is an understatement.
(Court of Queen's Bench, Justice John Menzies, October 2013)
In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada threw out mandatory sentences for repeat drug dealers, concerned that the harsh penalties applied to:
the addict who is charged for sharing a small amount of drugs with a friend or spouse, and finds herself sentenced to a year in prison because of a single conviction for sharing marihuana in a social occasion nine years before.
Just this week, in British Columbia, a judge refused to apply mandatory minimum sentences in the case of a young man who was found employed at a small marijuana farm.
All these decisions took the view that judges must have the flexibility to apply their experience, their knowledge, and, their judgment on a case-by-case basis.
We are glad the government intends to review these unconstitutional sentences, and we look forward to the day that the justice minister keeps her promise. If only the Liberal justice minister would, at the same time, expunge the criminal records of those who had been convicted of carrying small amounts of marijuana in the past, we could see true justice done.
I mentioned the other Bill C-51 when I began speaking. As soon as the election was over, the Prime Minister became silent on Bill C-51 after saying his government would make changes to it. Canadians truly hope the Liberal government keeps its word and does revoke sections of that act soon. Thousands of Canadians, including many of my constituents in Kootenay—Columbia, demanded change and they expect this promised on the former Bill C-51 to be kept.