An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act

Sponsor

Status

Second reading (Senate), as of Dec. 12, 2017

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Summary

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

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to amend, remove or repeal passages and provisions that have been ruled unconstitutional or that raise risks with regard to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as passages and provisions that are obsolete, redundant or that no longer have a place in criminal law. It also modifies certain provisions of the Code relating to sexual assault in order to clarify their application and to provide a procedure applicable to the admissibility and use of a complainant’s record when in the possession of the accused.

This enactment also amends the Department of Justice Act to require that the Minister of Justice cause to be tabled, for every government Bill introduced in either House of Parliament, a statement of the Bill’s potential effects on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Finally, it makes consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act.

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

December 11th, 2017 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a great honour to be the last speaker today on this particular bill. I want to start by thanking several of my colleagues who had to cover for me in the earlier part of the session when, due to a family situation, I was unable to be here for the first sitting weeks of Parliament and unable to participate in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. That was during the time when Bill C-51 came before the committee, and I just want to signify my appreciation for the colleagues who did that important work on my behalf.

I have heard comments in this House referring to Bill C-51 as an omnibus bill. With respect, I would have to disagree with those comments. The true sense of omnibus legislation refers to a bill that amends multiple different federal statutes, whereas with Bill C-51, we see all the amendments grouped thematically and really centred on cleaning up the Criminal Code, those redundant and obsolete sections, clarifying the language, and also providing direction to the Minister of Justice in providing a charter statement. Of course, there are consequential amendments to other acts and transitional provisions, but on the face of it, Bill C-51 is an appropriate bill. Some may balk at the length of the bill, but I would say to those members that just underlines the state our Criminal Code is in.

The Criminal Code is a very massive federal statute. It has been added to over the decades, and is a law that needs a lot of cleanup. In fact, legal scholars have been calling for us to act on these provisions for decades now. They have resulted in some real problems in case law. Unless Parliament provides for the amendments, the Criminal Code gets faithfully reproduced with all of its mistakes year after year.

It is heartening to see the charter statement contained in the bill. I will commend the government on starting that process, where the government at least puts forward its arguments with respect to why it thinks a particular piece of legislation infringes on the charter and why it thinks it is going to be okay. That is a starting place for us to have a fulsome debate in this place. As to whether we will always agree with it, that of course remains another question.

We are encouraged that the sections that help clarify Canada's sexual assault laws are in there. When we talk about our sexual assault laws, the big topic of conversation in Canadian political and public discourse is on consent. We need a lot of education among our youth and all members of society on what consent actually means. It is one thing to codify it in the Criminal Code, but not many people outside this chamber and the court system have the opportunity to read the Criminal Code. We also need to have that robust public education campaign to make sure everyone in society knows exactly what consent means and what the ramifications are of it.

On the sexual assault provisions, I will go over a few of the things the legislation is aiming to do. It is aiming to clarify specifically section 273.1, which is going to reflect the Supreme Court's decision in R. v. J.A. It is amending section 273.2, which clarifies the defence of a mistaken belief of consent. It is not available if the mistake is based on a mistake of law, for example, if an accused believed that the complainant's failure to resist or protest meant that the complainant consented.

This was a pretty heavy part of the committee's study. This part of the bill is quite complex, where a slight turn of the phrase or a different word used can certainly have some big ramifications. When I was on that committee, a lot of that testimony really informed some of the amendments the NDP made at that committee. Of course, thanks to my colleagues who took my place during some of the important testimony we heard.

We moved three main amendments that, unfortunately, were not passed at committee. While I respect my Liberal colleagues' arguments against those provisions, I think the law is an organic thing. We do our best to write the law in this place, but of course it will have to withstand the test of time within our courts, and those ultimately will be the judge of who was right and who was wrong in this case.

At committee, we tried to amend clause 10 to clean up the language to include the reason that a complainant would not have the capacity to understand the nature of the activity or would not be aware that she or he was obliged to consent to the activity. Therefore, we were concerned that the definition of incapacity might not have been entirely clear. There were some questions over whether the law was relying too heavily on a person's being unconscious and not looking at other forms of incapacity such as being drugged or something like that. Someone may not necessarily be unconscious, but could still be incapable of consenting to the activity that is going on.

We also heard of a complainant's expectation of privacy. We moved an amendment that reflected the need to clarify the admissibility of a complainant's private records at trial that would be in the hands of the accused. We heard some really great testimony from Professor Emma Cunliffe from the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC.

I was proud to move those amendments and argued as forcefully as I could, ultimately to no avail, but I still respect the work we did at committee and that we are finally at a stage now where Bill C-51 is on the launching pad and ready to go to the other place.

This bill also seeks to clarify and amend a number of sections of the Criminal Code that are redundant and obsolete. Some of those sections, I can go over. It would repeal section 71, provoking a person to fight in a duel or accepting such a challenge. Of course, in modern Canadian society that is no longer going on. It would repeal advertising a reward for the return of stolen property no questions asked, under section 43; and, of course, it would repeal the section on the possession of crime comics, from another age in Canada when people thought these would corrupt our youth. Of course, we know that to be a bit outdated in this day and age. One of my favourite clauses repeals the section on people fraudulently pretending to practise witchcraft. These sections serve to show how out of date many sections of our Criminal Code are and, of course, why we need this particular clause.

I will end on one of the most positive parts of our study of this bill, and that had to do with section 176. When members first read the bill at second reading, the proposed repeal of section 176 was simply a line item. It became obvious over the summer months that this particular section had deep symbolic value to many religious communities across Canada. I know that many of my colleagues and I received a lot of correspondence from people who felt that the section should be kept in the Criminal Code because of today's climate of religious intolerance. I believe that repealing it would have sent the wrong message. I am very pleased that we as a committee, indeed all parties, came together to keep that section and the fact that we reached consensus to modernize the language and so on and so forth.

With that, I will end on the fact that the bill is an important first step. We in the NDP are eagerly awaiting news from the Liberal government on when it will move ahead with Bill C-39, because that bill includes some very important provisions of the Criminal Code that need to be dealt with. I hope that the current government, with its emphasis on criminal justice reform, heeds those requests and moves forward with that particular bill.

With that, I will conclude my speech. I appreciate this opportunity to speak to this bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the great honour of serving as one of the vice-chairs on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I have been on a few committees, but I have to honestly say that I have never had a better experience than being on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in this Parliament. Everyone who serves on the committee approaches their job with a lot of care, compassion, and responsibility, and it is because of the nature of the subject matter that comes before committee.

My experience, whether dealing with various studies on access to justice or criminal justice bills, has always been a positive one and I feel there are always good conversations in that respect. We made some good amendments that reflected the popular will of the people, notably with section 176. I received an avalanche of correspondence from people all across the country, for whom section 176 had deep, symbolic value. I am glad that all parties could come to an agreement on leaving that section in.

The Minister of Justice has stated many times that criminal justice reform is very important to the Liberal government. As we are about to send Bill C-51 off to the other place, I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could comment on the status of Bill C-39, because that has some incredibly important provisions that need to be amended in the Criminal Code. We have heard reference to the Vader case, in which an incorrect verdict was rendered because of an obsolete section of the Criminal Code. It also deals with a section that still criminalizes abortion.

If criminal justice reform is so important to the government and we are now past the two-year mark, can he offer any insight as to when we will see further steps in the government's agenda on criminal justice reform?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 5:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member, who is the chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I was very pleased to serve with him as the vice-chair for two years, and I respect his leadership and his chairmanship of that committee. He does an awesome job, and he takes a balanced approach. He is willing to listen, so I commend him on his role there.

I was happy to participate in the debate on Bill C-51 at his committee. He gave me the opportunity to ask questions to the witnesses in regard to leaving in section 176 of the Criminal Code.

I am disappointed that the justice minister even presented the bill with the removal of section 176. I do not know what in the world she was thinking, but it was a disappointment. When Canadians recognized that it was in there, when we as politicians brought it to their attention, they overwhelmingly responded to the justice committee, to the justice minister, to the Prime Minister. The committee listened and realized it is hugely important to Canadians that protection for religious services, for clergy, for religious officiants be enshrined in the Criminal Code. We need that protection. It is important to all Canadians that we have that freedom, and we want to protect that.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 5:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Peace River—Westlock, who I think did a great job of expanding on this bill. It is indeed a real privilege for me to stand and speak about Bill C-51.

I think the last time I spoke about Bill C-51 was about two years ago when the Minister of Public Safety introduced it as an anti-terrorism measure. I was very happy to work on the public safety committee at that time and to be part of the committee work that brought that bill forward. It was indeed a wonderful piece of legislation, which I may remind the Liberals they wholeheartedly supported.

Today, Bill C-51 is an omnibus bill, as was previously mentioned. I Googled it just for the sake of understanding maybe what an omnibus is. It could be a four-wheeled bus. That is not the case here. It says “items previously published separately” is what constitutes a bill as being omnibus. Certainly this is an omnibus piece of legislation, something that the Liberals railed against during their time as the third party in this House.

From that perspective, we are going to talk about it a little more. It means that we are going to have to cover a bunch of unrelated items, but they are all stuck in this bill. The first part of the bill I would like to speak about is found in clause 14 of Bill C-51. It was introduced to remove section 176 of the Criminal Code.

For the benefit of the folks watching these proceedings, I would like to read the section as it is being presented. Subsection 176 (1) of the Criminal Code says:

(a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or

(b) knowing that a clergyman or minister is about to perform, is on his way to perform or is returning from the performance of any of the duties or functions mentioned in paragraph (a)

(i) assaults or offers any violence to him, or

(ii) arrests him on a civil process, or under the pretence of executing a civil process,

Section 176 provides explicit protection in the Criminal Code. It makes it a crime to unlawfully obstruct, threaten, or harm a religious official, before, during, or after they perform a religious service. It also makes interrupting or disturbing a religious service a crime.

In a time when there is an increasing amount of violence directed against religious groups and religious gatherings, removing this section made little sense. Yet, for some reason, the Liberal government wanted to get rid of the only protection for Canadians performing and participating in a religious service.

The Liberals said that attending a religious service was no different than attending a lecture. However, the many and varied religious groups which exist in Canada came forward in one collective voice, speaking one collective message. The message was simple: religious services and members of the clergy require protection under the law because they are different in kind from other sorts of public gatherings.

Removing section 176 would treat the disruption of a religious service as a mere mischief charge. To religious Canadians, a religious service is more than just an event to attend; it is a formative experience to their individual and community identities. Disrupting such a ceremony is not a small matter, but an act which offends their most fundamental right to gather in a peaceful assembly while sharing their most cherished beliefs.

A mere mischief charge in a time of growing intolerance would not have been sufficient. Indeed, repealing section 176 seems to show an intellectual disconnect on the part of the Liberals.

I am wondering what they were thinking by removing section 176, at a time when we see religious persecution all over our globe. We have seen attacks on religious institutions here in Canada, and the Liberals want to remove the only explicit protection that members of faith institutions have while they are conducting a worship service.

I want to talk a little about my own personal experience, because I grew up as the son of a clergyman. I have a pretty good idea, at least in the Christian faith, of what a clergyman does, and what part of his duties are. I am sure it is similar in all faiths.

That is the beauty of section 176. It is not explicit to the Christian faith. This is protection for clergy and for worship services that applies to all faiths. Whether they are Christian, Jewish, Sikh or Hindu or Muslim, this provides protection for members of the clergy. It provides protection in the Criminal Code for all forms of worship services.

I remember clearly as a young person, growing up and into my early adulthood, the time when my father was a pastor. My father died at the age of 51 from the same rare throat cancer that one of our colleagues passed away from earlier this year. He too had a son by the name of Theodore, as did my father. My father passed away at an early age, but I do remember the work that my father was engaged in and some of the things he did. One of the things he was obviously called upon to do as a pastor was to conduct worship services on a Sunday morning for his congregation, and that is something that section 176 of the Criminal Code clearly identifies will be protected.

Some of the other things were that when he had parishioners or members in the community who had experienced tragedy in their lives, who maybe had encountered some personal difficulties, found themselves in the hospital with a debilitating or life-threatening disease or facing death, often the clergy are called to administer comfort to those individuals. In my father's case, he was able to share the saving grace and power of the knowledge of knowing Jesus Christ with the individuals who were facing imminent death. It gave them reassurance and comfort to know they could put their faith in Jesus and have security and eternal life. These were functions that my father performed on a regular basis. I remember hospital visitation was very important to my father. Section 176 is something that would provide protection for clergy as they go to visit their parishioners, or members in their community who may be suffering from illness, or the illness of a family member.

Something else my father did was to conduct marriage ceremonies. It is an important part of everyday life when a man and woman decide they are in love and want to commit to spend the rest of their lives with each other. They call a member of their clergy and say that they would like to get married.

It is an exciting part of life, a new part of life, so the clergy are called upon to perform marriage counselling, which is part of the work that clergy do. They give marriage counselling, and it is a very important part of the work of the clergy. In the coming and going of their particular duties in performing marriage counselling, but also in performing the actual ceremony, the Criminal Code, through section 176, would provide protection.

One could ask how often that protection is required. People have been successfully prosecuted under section 176 for interfering in a religious or worship service, or also interfering with or obstructing clergymen in the dispatch of their duties. It is kind of like an insurance policy. The comfort of knowing it is there to provide protection for people and their loved ones is very reassuring, even though they obviously hope they do not need it. Certainly our hope, as Conservatives, would be that we would never have to experience a situation where section 176 of the Criminal Code is used. However, it certainly provides a deterrent for individuals from seeking to disrupt clergymen in the dispatch of their duties, disrupting a worship service, or disrupting worshippers and parishioners as they are in a gathering where they are encouraging one another and expressing their deeply held faith convictions, and worshipping the creator they serve.

There are lots of good reasons to support Bill C-51. Through many efforts of Canadians right across our country, who made their voices heard and their opinions known to the committee, to the justice minister, and to the Prime Minister, the Liberals listened. and they amended the bill. They are going to keep section 176 in Bill C-51. I am happy, as a Conservative, to support that bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to speak to Bill C-51. The very words of Bill C-51 hearkens back to the last election. As I recall, the opposition at the time, which is now the government party, had made a lot of noise about a particular Bill C-51 in the last Parliament. I know the Liberals also made a lot of noise about omnibus bills. I heard a lot about that one thing.

It is ironic today that two things, which are forever burned in my memory, are now coming up again today, as we discuss the current Bill C-51 and this omnibus bill.

Before I go any further, Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member from Provencher.

Getting back to the omnibus bill, as far as I am aware, the Conservative party used omnibus bills when in power. They were a tool that was available to the governing party at the time. We made no apologies for it. I was not here at the time, but I know that was a practice and it was loudly protested by the Liberals in particular. I heard about that in the faraway place of the promised land, up in northern Alberta where I am from. I heard about it repeatedly on the campaign trail, that the Conservatives used omnibus legislation.

I had to do some research as to what omnibus legislation was. It turns out that it is legislation that affects more than one bill or one act of the Parliament of Canada. It seemed logical to me, but for some reason the Liberals seem to make this out to be evil and wrong. To their credit, “omnibus” sounds kind of ominous. That is what the Liberals were going after with that whole line of attack.

It is kind of ironic that we are here today discussing an omnibus bill with much ado about some of the bill, while we are in vast agreement on many parts of it.

Over and over members have stood and have said that it is ridiculous, that the party over here is asking about omnibus bills, that it had no problem using them. However, that is precisely the point. The Conservatives did not promise not use omnibus legislation. The Liberals were accusing us of doing all kinds of things with omnibus legislation, saying that there was something inherently wrong with it.

Now the Liberals are the ones using omnibus legislation to roll out their agenda, which is perfectly within their right. However, the fact that they ran on the platform of not using omnibus legislation proves to me how the Liberals were willing to say whatever it took to get elected. It never had to be anything of substance. It was just omnibus legislation sounded terrible so it must be terrible, and they ran on the fact they would not use omnibus legislation. It was absolutely ridiculous.

It just goes to show that the Liberals can make a promise about something during an election and then they say that we did it too. This is what elections are won and fought over. If people say they will do something, then they have to live up to that. The consequences will be borne out over what was said.

The Conservatives understand that sometimes omnibus legislation is needed to change several different acts when trying to implement a particular idea. While that seems to make sense, the Liberals ran on the promise in the last election not to introduce omnibus legislation.

That brings me to the substance of the bill. I am pleased to say that section 176 was removed from the bill at committee. I am quite perturbed that this section was in the bill in the first place. It indicates to me that the Liberals are completely out of touch with Canadian culture and Canadian society when every day the media shows that crimes against religious institutions or people are on the uptick around the world. Section 176 was put in the bill as a cleanup measure, that it was obsolete legislation that we no longer needed in Canadian society.

This calls into question a number of the Liberal priorities. Why are Liberals saying this is not needed? Why is the protection of clergy or religious institutions not needed in modern-day society? They said that it was only one particular religion. We checked if imams claimed some of the tax credits available to the clergy, and they did. We asked if rabbis were classified as clergy under Canadian law, and they were. This seemed to be completely unrelated to reality.

We also checked as to whether there had been changes in crimes being perpetrated across the country. We discovered that religion accounted for 35% of targeted hate crimes in 2015. Introducing section 176 in this so-called cleanup bill is completely out of touch, when the reality is quite the opposite.

I received a significant amount of mail and emails from 176 constituents across my riding concerned about this section being removed. Even committee members mentioned that this section of the bill seemed to spark a significant amount of feedback. I am happy the Conservative members at committee were able to convince other members that this was not necessary, that it should remain in the Criminal Code, and it will remain in the code.

Once again, we need to ensure that religious communities across the country are not prevented from worshipping. One of the pieces to be removed from the Criminal Code was preventing clergy from getting to their places of worship to hold services. It is very important that clergy can fulfill their duties and do their jobs without harassment or worry of being detained along the roadway. I am not sure how often this section of the law has been used in the past or if the clergy were even aware they had this protection in criminal law. After this bill was introduced, there was a dramatic uptick in education on this and the realization that these protections existed in law.

I have a graph of all the hate crimes in the country. Religion is one of the highest motivations for hate crimes across the country. It ranks between race and ethnicity. It is a significant part of motivation and we need to ensure religious communities feel safe and are protected by the Criminal Code.

I had more to say about sexual assault, but I have concerns with the way the bill is going. The duty for evidence needs to come from the accused. We need to ensure that all evidence, regardless of when or where it is acquired, can been seen and heard at trial. I have some concerns with that, but at this point I am supportive of the bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Vance Badawey Liberal Niagara Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seems the Conservatives are putting a lot of emphasis on the omnibus bills of this government when in fact they did the same when they were in government.

I have to say that our government is committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system protects all Canadians, holds offenders to account, upholds the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and shows compassion for victims. This includes an unwavering commitment to ensuring that victims of sexual assault, as contained within Bill C-51, are treated with the utmost dignity and respect.

Bill C-51, although defined as “omnibus” by the members across the way, deals with the issues that I have highlighted were to be dealt with in the bill. Sexual assault and ensuring that victims are treated with the utmost dignity and respect is a priority for this government. What the Conservatives are calling “omnibus”, we call a responsibility that deals with our values as Canadians.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Vance Badawey Liberal Niagara Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-51, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another act. This legislation proposes to make various changes to the Criminal Code that seek to make the criminal law modern, relevant, and consistent with the applicable charter case law. It would also make important clarifications to the law of sexual assault.

The justice and human rights committee has now concluded its study of the bill. The committee heard from a number of important witnesses and stakeholders representing diverse viewpoints. In particular, witnesses were most interested in sharing their perspectives and recommendations with committee members on issues relating to the proposed sexual assault reforms.

The committee considered a number of amendments to those proposed reforms and adopted two that responded to what they heard from the many witnesses and that seek to bring even greater clarity to the law.

The committee also heard from witnesses in relation to the proposed repeal of an offence that targets disrupting religious officiants and ceremonies. The bill proposes to repeal this offence because, to the degree that it prohibits conduct that merits a criminal sanction, it is in fact a duplication of other more general offences.

During the study of Bill C-51 at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, committee members also heard from witnesses and constituents who were concerned about the proposed repeal of section 176, as mentioned earlier by one of my colleagues.

Our government listened to these concerns. The Liberal MP and committee member from West Nova put forward an amendment to retain and modernize the section to ensure it is in fact gender-neutral and make clear that the section applies to all religions and spiritual faiths. The government supports this amendment. We believe that all Canadians, regardless of which religious or spiritual faith they adhere to, must be able to practise that faith without fear of violence or disturbance.

There are other proposed amendments contained in Bill C-51 that may not garner as much attention but that are nonetheless very important for the proper functioning of our criminal law and to the overall coherence of the Criminal Code.

For instance, Bill C-51 proposes to amend a large number of offences by removing what is called a reverse onus. A reverse onus is a rule of law that places the burden on the accused to prove that something is more likely than not to be true. This is contrary to a long-standing and fundamental principle of criminal law, namely, that the prosecution bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is also contrary to the presumption of innocence as enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Under these normal rules of criminal law, the fact that the prosecution has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt means that the accused, to be acquitted, needs only to raise a reasonable doubt about his or her guilt.

A reverse onus, by contrast, says that the accused must do more than raise a reasonable doubt. He or she must convince the judge or jury that it is more likely than not that he or she is innocent.

There are special circumstances in which the burden can be reversed, such as when an accused raises the special defence of mental disorder. This burden is reversed because mental disorder is really a question of what was happening inside the mind of the accused, information to which he or she has the best access, and it is also a defence that can be easily feigned.

Absent compelling reasons, the burden must always be with the prosecution. Yet it seems that in the 1953-54 consolidation of the Criminal Code, a reverse onus was introduced into numerous offences, defences, and evidentiary presumptions.

These have remained in law until the present time, with the exception of a number that have been challenged under the charter as violating the presumption of innocence. Most such challenges have resulted in the courts finding the reverse onuses to be unconstitutional.

Bill C-51 would remove the reverse onuses that have been struck down and it would remove all the others that, while they have not yet been subject to challenge, do not appear to have any meaningful justification.

These changes would not have a negative effect on public safety, would better reflect long-standing principles of criminal law, would eliminate the potential for new charter challenges, and would thereby avoid the need for accused persons, prosecution services, and courts to waste precious time and resources examining these provisions. The consensus view among legal professionals and associations is that these amendments form part of the kinds of reforms that our criminal justice system needs to work more effectively and efficiently.

Other types of amendments that may not generate a lot of attention, but are still important include the proposed repeal of a number of offences in the Criminal Code that were enacted long ago, in many cases more than 100 years ago. Many of these offences reflect forms of conduct or values that are no longer relevant to our society. For example, Bill C-51 would repeal offences such as alarming Her Majesty, in section 49; challenging someone to a duel, in section 71; and blasphemous libel, in section 296. Another example of an offence to be repealed is one related to making or publishing what are called “crime comics”, which are exactly what they sound like, namely graphic depictions of criminal activity and violence. While there once was a time of great public concern for the potential for these materials to corrupt children, those days are long past. While not everyone will support this type of material or entertainment, we no longer believe as a society that people should be labelled as criminals for making it.

There are also offences in our Criminal Code that are overly specific, and duplicate other offences that are more general in nature. A number of these would be repealed as well. A good example is the proposed repeal of section 365, pretending to practise witchcraft, as was mentioned earlier by my colleague across the floor. Section 365 makes it an offence to fraudulently pretend to exercise or use any sort of conjurations, tell fortunes, or pretend to use one's skill or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to find lost or stolen goods. This conduct is really just a small subset of fraud. Fraud involves some kind of deception or dishonesty, combined with a risk of economic loss to another person. Fraud can occur in an infinite variety of circumstances. There is mortgage fraud, home renovation fraud, health insurance fraud, and securities fraud. Basically, any other situation in which a person voluntarily gives over money in response to something deceptive or dishonest also amounts to fraud. There is no good reason to have offences in the Criminal Code that spell out what fraud looks like in each of these circumstances. One offence of fraud gets the job done and is in fact defined within Bill C-51.

Archaic offences, such as those with overly specific duplicative offences, take up many pages in the Criminal Code. I know some commentators might consider these reforms, the parts of Bill C-51 that do not get headlines or generate passionate presentations before committee, of little importance. In fact, I take a different view. We should not underestimate the importance of this kind of reform. The Criminal Code is a reflection of Canadian values and what we as a society deem to be blameworthy conduct deserving of punishment and denunciation. It is, to be clear, the moral code of our society. It is our job, as legislators in the House, to ensure this code reflects our current values and priorities, that it does not overreach, and that it be rational and orderly.

I support the minister and our government in undertaking this routine but vitally important maintenance and updating of our Criminal Code to make it clearer and more accessible to Canadians, more relevant and modern, and more consistent with our human rights and freedoms.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 4:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Niagara Centre.

Bill C-51 deals with certain revisions to our Criminal Code that would impact our charter. These are two extraordinarily important laws in our country that have a direct impact on the lives of Canadians. Like anything worth keeping, they require maintenance over time, so to speak. Bill C-51 would perform some of that much-needed maintenance.

The bill attempts to do three main categories of things. First and most important, in my opinion, it would provide much-needed clarity on the concept of consent when it comes to the criminal law with respect to sexual assault. It would also address certain zombie laws, as I have heard them referred to previously, that have been deemed unconstitutional by our nation's highest court or have become obsolete because of the social context in which we find our country today. Finally, it would require the justice minister to introduce a charter statement to declare compliance with our charter of any government bills introduced through that portfolio.

I will first go to the crux of the matter, in my opinion. Bill C-51 would provide desperately needed clarity on the criminal law on sexual assault. Before I deal with the specifics, I would like to share with the House that this is a social problem that is endemic in Canadian society. It impacts every community. I have had the good fortune of sitting on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and have heard directly from witnesses who have been impacted by and survived sexual assault what it has done to them personally. To the extent we in the House can help stamp it out, that is the very least we owe Canadians.

There are a number of measures the government has taken outside of the bill to help fight gender-based violence once and for all, including over $100 million introduced for a gender-based violence strategy. What the committee heard during its study on ending gender-based violence against young women and girls is that it is not simply about supporting victims. It is also about legislative reform, particularly in the criminal context.

We have a criminal law system that discriminates against complainants at every turn. We are so ill-equipped to deal with these kinds of cases that a vast majority of complainants choose not to report incidents of sexual assault at all, and those who do muster the courage do so knowing that the rate of conviction, the rate at which justice is granted, is small. It is hard to imagine why they would put themselves in the position of being questioned and re-victimized in the first place.

We have an opportunity to better our system, encourage more people to come forward, and ensure that justice is indeed granted in circumstances where that is possible. One way this may be achieved is through proposed section 273.1. It confirms the Regina v. J.A. decision, which explains quite simply that consent is required on an ongoing basis. Essentially, someone who is unconscious is not able to provide consent. The simplest message to anyone who might be listening at home is that if someone is having sexual relations with a person who is too drunk to consent or who is unconscious, that is not sex. That is rape, and we need to acknowledge it for what it is.

Proposed section 273.2 of this legislation would provide additional protections, reflecting the Supreme Court decision in Regina v. Ewanchuk in 1999, by making it absolutely clear in our criminal law that mistaken belief of the law cannot constitute consent. It is not okay to assume that a person has consented because someone else gave consent for the person. There needs to be a positive affirmation. One cannot assume that because a person consented in advance, the consent is ongoing. One cannot assume that a failure to resist a sexual advance constitutes consent. If those are the only lines of defence in a sexual assault case, a person should be found guilty under our law.

Importantly, Bill C-51 also deals with our well-established rape shield provisions. The twin myths I have heard discussed by different members in the House today explain that we cannot rely on the sexual history of a complainant to make findings as to his or her credibility or whether he or she has given consent in a given instance. Bill C-51 would expand this protection to ensure that communications sent with sexual content or for a sexual purpose were not used to perpetuate those same myths.

This is an added layer of protection that reflects the world we live in. In the 21st century, if consenting adults wish to send each other communications of a sexual nature or for a sexual purpose, that is their decision. However, the fact that someone has demonstrated that he or she was interested in sexual activity before cannot be used by a court to make a finding that he or she has given consent.

If I transposed this logic to any other social circumstance, I feel that just about everyone would get it. Without being flippant about an extraordinarily serious issue, after work I may join a colleague for a beer or have a glass of wine or two over dinner. However, if I am asked to go out for a drink on a given night and I say no, my friends understand that. I do not know why the same logic cannot be applied to sexual assault. Particularly for young men, again, if they are listening, just because a person has demonstrated a willingness to engage in sexual relations in the past, they should not assume that it is consent forever thereafter.

Some of the other themes touched on that I would like to address while I have the floor include these zombie laws. These laws create uncertainty and unnecessary expense in litigation and should be removed from the books. They largely reflect decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. Cases of defamatory libel and cases involving evidentiary burdens and the reverse onus that have been dealt with by the Supreme Court will be reflected in law. I think, although I do not want to speak for everyone, that those provisions are unanimously supported by members of this House.

There are other matters that are completely obsolete in this day and age. I notice the provisions on challenging a person to a duel, which has a very interesting backstory in Nova Scotia involving our third premier, Joseph Howe, if anyone wants to take the time to read it. There is the crime of publishing crime comics. There is fraudulently pretending to practise witchcraft. I think we will leave the discussion on people who are actually practising witchcraft for another day. I think members get the point. There are many laws that exist in our Criminal Code that really should be removed from the books.

The government has a responsibility to ensure that its laws comply with the charter. That brings me to the last theme addressed by Bill C-51. That is the obligation of the Minister of Justice to introduce a compliance statement, a charter statement, with new pieces of government legislation that impact that portfolio. This is a very positive exercise, in my opinion, and it is one that will enhance openness and transparency. It will allow Canadians to see that the government is stating, for the record, why it believes its laws are in compliance with the charter.

We sometimes fall into the trap, in different governments, in different parts of our nation's history, of putting forward laws that may seem popular to a voter base but may be contrary to the rights that are included, constitutionally, in Canadian law. This practice of introducing a statement on compliance with the charter is going to ensure that our government is subject to Canadian laws and that people are protected by it, not the other way around.

This proposed legislation has my full support, whether it is for making clear the provisions on consent in cases of sexual assault, whether it is removing from our charter specific provisions that should not be there, either because they are unconstitutional or obsolete, or whether it is the introduction of a charter statement. These are positive developments that are going to help make our criminal system more efficient and will help protect the charter rights of Canadians.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Do not worry, because I intend to be here a long time.

The particular focus of public debate on the legislation concerned section 176 of the Criminal Code, which presently still exists. Section 176 specifically made it illegal to disrupt a worship service, or attack a “clergyman or minister”. The original version of Bill C-51 sought to remove that section. That would have removed the only section in the Criminal Code that provided specific protection by criminalizing attacks on religious services or religious leaders. We heard a number of arguments in the course of the debate. Of course, the general thrust of the legislation, from the government's communications about it, was that the bill removes redundant or unnecessary sections of the Criminal Code. Some argue that these specific protections for religious officials and religious services were not necessary, because any of the things that are identified within that section in particular are already illegal. Disrupting a worship service might have been captured under trespassing provisions. Vandalism, obviously, is illegal anyway. Assaulting someone, whether a religious figure or not, is illegal anyway. Therefore, the argument was that section 176 of the Criminal Code is redundant.

Why do we disagree with that on this side of the House? We recognize in law that even things that are already illegal may need extra legal recognition to ensure that they are treated by the law in a proportionate way. That is, after all, why we have laws with respect to hate crimes. Anything that is not permitted under hate crimes legislation is probably something that is in fact already illegal, but I think all members of the House agree that it is still important to have hate crimes legislation recognize the proportionality of an offence, recognize that there is something much more serious, that should be treated more seriously, when individuals are targeted because of their background or identity.

There is something more serious about that than a purely random act of vandalism or violence. That is not to downplay the seriousness with which the law should treat a random act, but when individuals, institutions, or groups are targeted specifically because of their identity, that has a different and arguably much greater social effect, because it seeks to impede the practice of that faith, impede the living-out of that identity, and to create a climate of fear for people who are part of that identity. Therefore, when we have specific sections that deal with crimes that target specific groups, they help us to ensure that the law is treating crimes in a proportionate way that reflects the social effects of those actions. We can see on that basis that section 176 is not redundant at all but reflects an important social purpose of the law, which is to ensure proportionality.

Another reason why section 176 was not redundant is the that fact of this being in the Criminal Code sends a clear message that the law not only has practical effects but also pedagogic effects in demonstrating our commitment to religious freedom and to the protection of the practice of faith in Canada.

We also had people objecting to the section on the basis that the language implied that the section might only apply to certain faith communities. The section uses the language “clergyman” or “minister”, which obviously is gender specific but also implies that it only refers to a particular faith. Those who raised this objection were being somewhat disingenuous, because the reality is that this section is clearly interpreted as applying to men and women and to people of all faiths. Certainly, it probably makes sense to update and clarify the language with respect to that, to change the wording to ensure that there is no misunderstanding, but in reality there never really was a misunderstanding the way in which the law applies. Therefore, those objections were incorrect.

Many people over the course of the summer and early fall were actively engaged on this issue, signing petitions, and lobbying their MPs. I was involved in Edmonton in organizing a round table for our leader to meet with religious leaders from different faith communities. It was a great opportunity to get leaders from different faith communities together as part of a common round table talking about the issues in Bill C-51.

Of course, we were glad to see the government's backing down on this. However, it is important to ask the question, why was the removal of section 176 in this bill in the first place? Whose idea was it to put it in there, buried in a long list of provisions with respect to all kinds of other issues? The government, in certain instances, maybe talks the talk about protecting certain minority communities, at least, and certain faith communities, but when it comes to walking the walk, in the initial draft of the legislation, the Liberals tried to remove this critical protection for faith communities. When they were caught and communities became engaged, the government eventually backed down.

This speaks to the importance of vigilance. The government talks the talk on the one hand, but when it thinks people are not looking, and the changes involve small provisions within large omnibus bills, it tries to get away with things that most Canadians would see as unacceptable. This is then a call for continuing vigilance on the part of members of Parliament and Canadians to hold the Liberal government accountable.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity today to join the debate on Bill C-51. It is quite clearly an omnibus bill dealing with a wide range of different provisions with respect to justice. I am going to comment on some of those provisions, but at the outset let me quickly comment on the fact that what we have before the House is an omnibus bill.

I am not one of those people who says that any omnibus bill represents the end of the world, but there are some people on the other side of the House who took at least something close to that position in the last Parliament. I remember being asked about this during election forums in my riding. I said very clearly that there is an appropriate use of bills containing a number of different kinds of provisions, but also an inappropriate use of them, and that, ultimately, we cannot necessarily codify exactly what these will look like in every case. It is the kind of thing that reasonable people should look at it and judge.

The principle is that as many opportunities as possible should be created for debate and votes that are particular to specific individual issues. We should not have a situation in which we have a whole bunch of different, contrary, unrelated things in the same bill that are not in any way part of an overall plan moving in the same direction.

When the government does that it creates a situation in which there may be some aspects of the bill that are positive and some not, which creates a particular challenge for members of Parliament who are trying to decide how to express their support for certain provisions in the bill they may like, and their opposition to things they may have concerns about. However, it also creates an opportunity for the government to bury things in the legislation that actually deserve particular scrutiny.

I am going to talk about the changes to section 176 of the Criminal Code that were proposed. That provision was an example of one that would have had a very substantial impact, but was buried within a larger bill. It did not figure prominently in the government's communications about the bill. It was only because of the activism of the opposition raising awareness about this section that we were able to have it discussed at committee and, ultimately, see what seems like the willingness of the House to remove that proposed provision. However, regardless of one's views on the principle of omnibus legislation, we should hold the government accountable for the fact it has failed to live up to the standard it set for itself with respect omnibus legislation.

One of the provisions we see in the bill, I understand, removes the sections from the Criminal Code dealing with witchcraft. It makes sense for the government to do this. Witchcraft may be its only chance at balancing the budget in the near term. Some members may think this is uncontroversial. I actually discussed it with Mackenzie King this morning, and he has some concerns about this section of the bill. Ultimately, we decided it would only have a medium impact going forward, so I think we will just leave it there.

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December 11th, 2017 / 4:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place once again to speak in the debate around another Liberal omnibus bill, which this time happens to be a justice bill. I will be splitting my time with the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan

It has been mentioned already today that in the past election campaign, the Liberals promised there would be no more omnibus bills. They also campaigned against the use of time allocation, and yet time after time the government has used time allocation to move legislation forward.

I am pleased to speak to a bill that received so much input from my constituents over the summer, especially those with strong religious beliefs. The bill does not pick and choose one religion; it will affect all religions.

Bill C-51 was originally introduced by a Liberal government with a section containing what many people thought was an assault on religious freedom and beliefs. As we have heard today, the Liberal government planned to repeal section 176 of the Criminal Code pertaining to the protection of religious officials and the freedom to worship peacefully without disturbance.

Canadians know that Conservative members have always supported religious freedom, and the protection of those freedoms. It was the Conservative government that brought forward the office of religious freedom. That office promoted religious freedom around the world. Andrew Bennett served as ambassador after a long period of time with Foreign Affairs, and he did amazing work for our country and for the whole concept of religious freedom.

In Bill C-51, the Liberal government proposes to repeal section 176 of the Criminal Code pertaining to the protection of religious officials. There was a response in my constituency office and across the country, and pastors and others involved in religious freedom expressed their deepest concerns.

I am very pleased with the work of Conservative members of Parliament who sat on justice committee during the hearings on Bill C-51, including the member for St. Albert—Edmonton and the member for Niagara Falls. Many other Conservative colleagues put considerable effort into the issue of protection of all religious officials and the freedom to worship peacefully without fear of disturbance during religious services. The member of Parliament for Cypress Hills—Grasslands does great work on the whole religious freedom file. I want to thank the many witnesses who testified before committee and provided submissions. I want to thank them for standing up and defending religious freedom in Canada. Their voices were heard.

I commend the Liberal government for backing down on its attempt to repeal section 176. The government realized where amendments should be brought forward and accepted them, so we commend it for that.

It was disconcerting to note that the current government included in Bill C-51 a dismissal of the importance of religious freedom in Canada. The Liberals announced their belief that the disruption of a religious service was not serious enough that it should be protected in this legislation. Consequently, people responded again. At committee, the government tried to ignore it and said it was not going to happen. By November of this year, Liberal members on the justice committee agreed to allow section 176 of the Criminal Code to remain operable.

This was a victory for all faith communities in Canada. It was an important victory, because hate crimes with respect to religious communities happen all around the world.

Hate crimes are on the increase and, unfortunately it is the same here in Canada, whether it is the Jewish faith, Judaism, attacks on synagogues, the Christian faith, or the Muslim faith.

Bill C-51 was introduced by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada just days before the parliamentary recess, on June 6, 2017. Clause 14 of Bill C-51 proposed to repeal section 176 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which makes it a crime to unlawfully obstruct, threaten, or harm a religious official, before, during, or after performing a religious service. Again, we heard about it all summer. Later, I will read what section 176 did.

Why is this important? I want to go back to a quote from former Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker. It is a quote that all of us should take note of and appreciate. He stated:

I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.

His pledge was to stand up, not just for direct assaults on religious freedom, but against the erosion of religious freedom. This is the way that Canadians have lived for decades.

The Liberal government has been very selective of its new sunny ways in who it respects. Worse, the Liberal government tried to reduce the security of religious Canadians by burying its repeal of section 176 deep in an omnibus justice bill. More than 65 interfaith fellowships or leaders, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, one of the 65, sent a joint letter to the Minister of Justice on October 31, 2017. It very much brought forward the concerns it had.

I will very quickly read part of section 176 in the act, because it is important for Canadians to get the perspective of it. It states:

Every one who

(a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or

(b) knowing that a clergyman or minister is about to perform, is on his way to perform or is returning from the performance of any of the duties or functions mentioned in paragraph (a)

(i) assaults or offers any violence to him, or

(ii) arrests him on a civil process, or under the pretence of executing a civil process

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Disturbing religious worship or certain meetings

(2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

This provision protects the pastor, the clergyman, the rabbi, the imam in leading, and it protects the individuals who participate in such services. It is important to note, again, that Liberals felt this was unacceptable. In unison, members from all faiths came together.

Bill C-51 has other points. First, it deals with sexual assault provisions. It would clarify and strengthen certain aspects of sexual assault related to consent, admissibility of evidence, and legal representation for the complainant. It would repeal or amend a number of provisions in the Criminal Code that have been found unconstitutional by appellate courts. It is a housekeeping measure. As the previous member suggested, it is good to see that there is support in this place for some of those measures.

I will close by saying that this is the way it should end up. It should end up where Canadians first of all stand up for what they believe is an assault on their way of life, where we take it to committee, make those amendments, and where governments are then willing to allow those amendments to come forward.

I thank the Conservatives for bringing forward the amendments, and all other parties for accepting them. Although the bill may not be perfect, we hope that the measures that have been amended and are coming forward will pass.

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December 11th, 2017 / 4:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is one of the reasons why I started the speech in the manner in which I did, focusing specifically on section 176. There have been a number of my colleagues, members across the way, who have talked about Bill C-51 and the many different advantages of the passage of this piece of legislation, especially when it comes to sexual assault. There is no way I can articulate in the same manner in which some of our colleagues have in terms of the actual benefits in that whole area, so that is why I focused a good part of my comments on talking about the issue of process.

I looked at the section 176 as a fairly positive experience. What we saw was not just one member of the House because I believe this thing was being driven, in most part, by Canadians to say, “Let us just wait a minute here.” I know I have had calls on it, and people felt that this was an important aspect of the Criminal Code. Whether or not it was being used very rarely, it definitely provided a disincentive for individuals to go into a mosque, a gurdwara, a Christian church, or whatever it might be, in an attempt to disrupt. It was a positive aspect to the Criminal Code.

How it ultimately came into being and appearing in Bill C-51, I suspect had a lot more to do with reviews that were being conducted. As I indicated, some of the stuff that is within Bill C-51 is because of court decisions; others are because of bureaucratic decisions; others would be because of other stakeholders' decisions. Which category that one falls under, I'm going to choose to believe, was the bureaucratic review in terms of how many times possibly it was being utilized in our courts and as a result it appeared there.

However, the good news is that we have a process in place, we have individuals who were listening to the constituents, and we were able not only to get rid of the repeal but we also amended it in the Criminal Code so that it went to include faith and spiritual leaders. I think that would make the Criminal Code that much better.

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December 11th, 2017 / 3:50 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-51, which is important legislation. I do not necessarily agree with my colleague across the way when he talks about the omnibus nature of legislation. In fact, a very thorough review has taken place. This legislation is a reflection, as I made reference to in my question, of court decisions that have been made. along with a review from bureaucrats and others who have been involved in trying to update or modernize our Criminal Code.

I have had the opportunity to look at the Criminal Code, and it is a fairly wordy document. We need to modernize it or make a genuine attempt to make changes like these. Sometimes legislation or law needs to change. I cannot recall the details right off hand, other than the fact that one of the changes would get rid of duelling. I am sure people would have to look long and hard to find the last time there was an actual duelling of swords in Canada. There is legislation that, because it is never repealed or taken out of the Criminal Code, just becomes somewhat dated. Therefore, it is necessary for us to take a look at it and make changes.

My colleague across the way made a couple of references on which I want to pick up, for example, the charter statement. For years I sat in the opposition benches. We would look at government legislation and quite often question if it was charter proof, or if there was a legal opinion with regard to legislation, that it would go through the court system and meet the charter. On many occasions, I have stood in the House and talked about the importance of the charter and different perspectives. Canadians have responded, over three decades-plus of having the charter, that the charter is part of our Canadian values. Often, when I sat in opposition, the government would talk a fairly tough line on criminal matters.

At times, the government would bring in ideas and we questioned whether it had a legal opinion on whether it would be successful if it went to a Supreme Court. We would challenge the government to ensure legislation would be vetted to ensure it would be in compliance, as much as possible, if not all of the time, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A very positive aspect of the legislation before us is the charter statement. It would require government to have that charter statement for legislation it introduced to the House. That is a very strong positive, and I am very supportive of it being in the legislation.

I want to pick up on an issue about which the Conservatives have spoken. The Conservatives are leaving the impression that a change to the legislation with respect to the repeal of section 176, as originally suggested in the legislation and is no longer happening, is because of the fine work of the Conservative Party. That is a false impression. I too had had constituents of mine in Winnipeg North and others express genuine concern about why section 176 of the Criminal Code would be repealed.

For those following the debate, like me, who were not part of the committee discussions but may be interested in exactly what members have already said today, section 176 was originally going to be repealed. When the bill was introduced to the House at second reading, it was proposed that section 176 of the Criminal Code be repealed. It currently states:

Every one who (a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling...

The response to the proposal to the repeal of that section, which many individuals came to know somewhere between first reading and second reading, was brought to my attention. I was really quite glad to see the system works. I do not believe I was alone. I suspect other members of Parliament on both sides of the House were approached on this issue. From my perspective, that demonstrates the system works.

After second reading, the bill went to committee. Members on all sides of the House recognized, whether it was through the committee chair or the committee membership, that high sense of co-operation and understanding of the things that needed to be done. Presenters came forward and recommended, in essence, what many of us were hearing in our constituencies.

I was not surprised that an amendment brought forward to keep section 176. In fact, I believe it was improved upon in the Criminal Code. The standing committee addressed the concerns to repeal section 176 and amended it. It also added more strength to it by expanding it so it went beyond only ministers to include spiritual leaders and so forth, which was a positive change. Had it not even been in the original legislation, that aspect would not have been changed. Therefore, we have a stronger section 176 of the Criminal Code.

I want to emphasize that clause, because it gives me room to let my constituents know that when we talk about trying to improve legislation, we have a process that allows for that. Bill C-51 is a very good example of this.

From what I understand, at least one opposition amendment was approved. As well, a number of government members brought forward amendments to improve the legislation. That clearly demonstrates that second reading is a great opportunity to get a good understanding in principle of what the legislation is about. It then goes to committee where experts are afforded the opportunity to provide their thoughts. Members of Parliament are able to reflect on the clauses, and caucuses, either directly or indirectly, are able to feed their thoughts into the need for change, and we saw amendments. This amendment was a very strong positive, because constituents of mine wanted to see that happen.

I applaud the efforts of the standing committee and the fine work it did in returning the legislation to where we are today. Today we have fairly good support for it coming from all political parties. I understand that many inside and outside the chamber see this as strong legislation, which will further advance the important issue of sexual assault.

We often underestimate just how serious sexual assault is in Canada. In 2016, some 20,000-plus incidents were reported. Those number are far too high. I do not know how it compares to previous years, all I know is that it is an unacceptable number.

When we look at the 20,000-plus incidents reported in 2016, we can anticipate that for every one reported, many others were not. We need to talked about this more. The government and the House need to look at ways in which we can ensure individuals who are victims feel comfortable in knowing society as a whole encourages them to come forward. We all understand and can appreciate the consequences of this type of violent crime. The numbers are significant and very upsetting. It affects all communities.

We can talk about bringing in the legislation and trying to improve it, but it is going to take more than just legislation. There needs to be a national-led approach on how we can deal with the issue sexual assault. I am very happy to hear that different departments, in particular Public Safety and Status of Women, are engaged and are on top of this. We need to promote this dialogue.

I have always thought we vastly underestimate the roles our school divisions throughout the country can play on the issue of violence, in particular sexual assault. I would like to see different stakeholders provide more ideas and have more dialogue. What takes place in our schools is of critical importance.

I used to be the education critic in Manitoba. We often talked about setting the curriculum for our schools and the important role the provincial government had with respect to that curriculum. Likely some areas in the country have better practices. This is where a national government can play a leadership role by looking for better practices and trying as much as possible to encourage and promote those practices in other jurisdictions. That is one of the reasons why I believe in the importance of having interprovincial discussion groups, having a government and its ministers taking these important issues to the many different tables they sit around.

The legislation is important, we recognize that, which brings me right to the bill itself. It proposes to remove and repeal the passage of provisions of the code that have been ruled unconstitutional in many ways by our courts or raise concerns under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the passage of provisions that are obsolete, redundant and/or quite frankly no longer in place in criminal law itself.

I want to clarify that strengthening the criminal law of sexual assault is expected to assist in enhancing a better understanding of the law and addressing concerns about the law's application. I believe that the better the understanding of the law, the simpler it is made known to victims, the greater the likelihood that we would have victims approving and coming forward to report what has taken place in their particular situation.

I would suggest that the proposed changes to the Department of Justice Act and Criminal Code reflect the government's unwavering commitment to promote respect for the charter and the rule of law. I made reference to the years we sat in opposition and how important it was that when government brought forward legislation that we in the opposition ensured there was a charter test applied to it. This legislation does just that.

Repealing provisions that are very similar to those found unconstitutional by the courts will help avoid expensive and time-consuming litigation. Avoiding unnecessary litigation will also help to prevent court delays and backlogs, which is so critically important.

We can see that the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights did an outstanding job in reviewing the bill, and making the amendments I have made reference to, which were of the utmost importance.

The government is committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system protects Canadians, and holds offenders to account for their actions, that it upholds the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and shows compassion to victims. We have to ensure that the confidentiality and privacy of victims are protected as much as humanly possible. It is critically important. This includes the unwavering commitment to ensuring that victims of sexual assault are treated with the utmost dignity and level of respect.

During the study, we heard from many individuals who came before the committee on the importance of clarity of what sexual assault laws are. The feedback provided was most welcomed for us to have a better understanding of how a person has given consent, and the need to recognize that if someone is unconscious that person is not capable of giving consent. Therefore, it provides more definition and clarity in that area.

Based on what I am hearing from the members opposite, I believe there is fairly good support for the legislation. With respect to those areas that were repealed, for the most part, with one or possibly two exceptions, the House seems to be fairly supportive. The one greatest exception, section 176, has been dealt with in an appropriate fashion. I know I was quite grateful that it was repealed.

I see that my time has expired. I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts on this piece of legislation.

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December 11th, 2017 / 3:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe that certain parts of Bill C-51 help clarify the law around sexual assault.

One example of that is the evidence tendered with respect to the twin myths. In that regard, the bill makes it clear that evidence cannot be tendered under any circumstances. That is good because there has been some confusion in the case law with respect to subsection 276(1) and then another subsection, 276(2), and subsection (3), which has resulted in trial judges basically having a balancing test in some cases. This bill would eliminate that and make it clear that under no circumstances can evidence be tendered on the basis that a complainant, as a result of her sexual history, is less believable or more likely to consent. That is a positive step.

The problem with this bill is that it is an omnibus bill. It relates to matters that are unrelated to each another. Therefore, there are parts of this bill that are very positive, but there are other sections that, frankly, are very problematic, including with respect to defence disclosure.

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December 11th, 2017 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend and colleague, the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, for that important question. I want to acknowledge the work he did as one of the first members to flag the government's proposed removal of section 176 in its initial draft of Bill C-51.

The member is quite right that it took a lot of pressure for the government to come around to do the common-sense and right thing with respect to a section of the Criminal Code that is not unconstitutional, that is not redundant, and that has been used in several cases, including most recently in the case of an Ottawa woman who vandalized a religious statue. He is quite right when he speaks about a climate of fear and hate, in which persons, churches, synagogues, and mosques have been targeted by hateful people. We have seen that recently with a number of acts of vandalism at Ottawa area synagogues and mosques. We have seen many instances of this.

Not only was the proposed removal of section 176 substantively the wrong thing to do, the timing could not have been worse. It is really inconsistent with the government's purported commitment to ensuring that measures are taken to deal with and address serious issues around hate being perpetrated and individuals being targeted on the basis of their religion or other characteristics.