Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-75, the Liberal government's justice reform bill.
Sadly, I cannot find a lot of good things to report about the bill to the House, to my riding, or to Canadians at large, for that matter. Like a number of the Liberal government's legislative measures, the purpose of the bill, as presented by the Liberal front bench, does not always match what the bill actually proposes to do.
In Bill C-71, the Minister of Public Safety used tragic shootings in the United States, shootings in Canada, and a guns and gangs summit in Ottawa to suggest he was putting forward legislation that would tackle illegal guns, gangs, and violent criminals. The sad reality is that the legislation he has proposed never once mentions gangs or organized crime, and does nothing to deal with illegal weapons and crimes caused by them.
Prior to that, the Minister of Public Safety had introduced Bill C-59, a bill he claimed would strengthen our national security and protect Canadians. Again, the reality was very different, as the bill would move nearly $100 million dollars from active security and intelligence work that protects Canadians to administrative and oversight mechanisms.
Worst of all, the Minister of Public Safety made bold claims about moving the bill to committee before second reading, stating:
I would inform the House that, in the interests of transparency, we will be referring this bill to committee before second reading, which will allow for a broader scope of discussion and consideration and possible amendment of the bill in the committee when that deliberation begins.
When it came time to actually consider reasonable, bold, or even small amendments, the Liberals fought tooth and nail to ensure the bill did not change in scope or scale. The results are poor for Canadians and for those who work in national security, more people looking over shoulders, tougher rules, more paperwork, and few, if any, benefits, as front-line efforts to protect Canadians only become more difficult.
Under Bill C-75, we see the same old story. The justice minister made bold claims that she would be helping address the backlog of cases created when the Supreme Court imposed a maximum time frame for cases. The minister made these claims. The legislation would improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system and reduce court delays. It would strengthen response to domestic violence. It would streamline bail hearings. It would provide more tools to judges. It would improve jury selection. It would free up limited court resources by reclassifying serious offences. It sounds like a great bill. Streamline the courts? Strengthen response to domestic violence? Provide more tools for judges? That all sounds fantastic.
Sadly, the Liberals are not achieving any of these objectives according to the legal community nor according to many knowledgeable leaders in the House. Does it shorten trials and ensure that we deal with the backlog? No. The minister appears to make this claim on the elimination of most preliminary hearings.
Preliminary hearings, according the Canadian legal community, account for just 3% of all court time. With an overloaded court system, eliminating a huge number of these hearings will only make a small impact. That impact, unfortunately, will be offset by potentially worse results.
Preliminary hearings are used and can often weed out the weakest cases, which means that more of the weak cases will go to trial if we eliminate the preliminary hearings. That will increase court times. Moreover, preliminary trials can deal with issues up front and make trials more focused. Instead, many cases will be longer with added procedural and legal arguments.
One member of the legal community called this bill “a solution to a problem that does not exist." That is high praise indeed. However, it is the changes to serious criminal offences that have many Canadians, not just the legal community, concerned.
I think all members of the House could agree, or at least accept, that not all Criminal Code issues need to be treated the same and that threshold for punishment should also not be treated the same. However, Canadians expect that Ottawa will ensure we have safe streets, and that the law benefits all people like the law-abiding and victims, not just slanted in favour of the convicted criminals. The Liberals seem to be more focused on making life harder on the law-abiding and easier on criminals.
Under Bill C-75, the Liberals have provided the option to proceed with a large number of violent offences by way of summary conviction rather than an indictable offence. This means that violent criminals may receive no more than the proposed 12 months in jail or a fine for their crimes, crimes such as a slap on the wrist for things like participation in a terrorist organization, obstructing justice, assault with a weapon, forced marriage, abduction, advocating genocide, participation in a criminal organization, and trafficking, just to name a very few.
There are many more, but it bears looking at a few in particular. These are serious offences. Allowing these criminals back on the streets with little to no deterrence makes even less sense.
Assault with a weapon, as we know, is when someone uses a weapon that is not a firearm, such as a bat, a hammer, or any sort of item, to attack someone else. These are not minor occurrences. They are serious criminal issues that should have the full force and effect of the law. Abduction is another serious offence. It could involve children taken from parents or intimate partner violence, or it could be combined with a number of other offences for kidnapping and forced confinement.
In none of these scenarios are the victims or society better served when those responsible for these types of offences serve only a minimal jail sentence or receive a fine. The principle is that Canadians expect that our government and our courts will be there to ensure that criminals receive punishment for their crimes, and that good, law-abiding Canadians and those who have been victimized by these criminals are treated well and fairly.
However, the average Canadian cannot see how making sentences shorter on criminals would meet this basic test. The fact is that it does not meet that test. What it does is address another problem. It potentially reduces court backlogs with the promise of reduced sentences. Therefore, it solves the minister's problem. That is perhaps the part we should be looking at. The Minister of Justice is not here to solve her own problems; she is here to serve Canadians and fix their problems. As my colleagues have pointed out very clearly, there are other solutions, better solutions, in fact.
The minister has addressed the backlog with judicial appointments. I note that 20 have been made this year. However, that is not nearly enough to deal with the problems, as there are still so many more vacancies all across this land. The former minister of justice said, “in my six years as minister of justice, there was never a shortage of qualified candidates”. Therefore, it is not a failure of the judiciary. It is not that there are too many preliminary hearings. It is not that there are way more criminals, as crime rates overall have been declining. The problem resides almost entirely with the minister and the government getting more people on the bench and in the prosecutorial services.
As I have said in the House before, public safety and national security should be the top priority of the House and should be above politics, so that the safety and security of Canadians are put ahead of political fortunes. While the Liberals have said that public safety is a priority, they have said that everything else is their top priority as well. To have 300 or more top priorities is to have no priorities at all.
Canadians expect that the government will make them its top priority. Sadly, this bill fails the test to keep Canadians safe and deliver effective government. The legal community has said that this bill is deeply flawed and would hurt the legal system rather than help it. Police officers will likely see themselves arresting the same people over and over again as criminals get lighter sentences or fines on summary convictions. Therefore, the backlog will move from the courts to the policing community and back to the courts. How does that help the average Canadian?
In closing, I am of the opinion that Canada is going to be weaker after the Liberals leave office in 2019, and far weaker than when they entered office. Their wedge politics on the values test, pandering to terrorists, ignoring threats from China, targeting law-abiding gun owners, lack of leadership on illegal border crossers, and waffling on resource development continue to put Canadians at a serious disadvantage that weakens our public safety and national security and places undue strain on families and communities.