Members are asking “what?” They may not know, but it seems there will be a Progressive Conservative majority government in Ontario. I am sorry to have to break that news to my friends across the way, but the Liberals may still get official party status. It is a harbinger of things to come in a year and a half in federal politics. One of the reasons we are likely to see a similar result for the Liberals in a year and a half is precisely their failures with respect to the justice system.
I will turn now to a much less happy subject, and that is the content of the Liberals' Bill C-75. We can call it a justice omnibus or “injustice” omnibus bill. It is over 300 pages, making various changes with respect to the framework around criminal justice. There are certainly problems with the way the Liberals are administering the justice system, problems in need of solutions. However, the proposals by the government do not improve the situation. In fact, they make the situation much worse.
There are so many different aspects of the bill. It pays to mention to some extent that this is an omnibus bill. The Liberals talked in the last election about not doing omnibus bills. They said that omnibus bills limited the scrutiny that could be applied to individual items, that they forced members to vote all at once on provisions, some of which they may think were laudable and others which they may think were not.
Coming from that election promise, we now find ourselves in a situation in this Parliament where it seems virtually all of the legislation we debate is omnibus legislation. It is interesting that we had previous bills before this Parliament that included many of the same provisions and then the government decided it would roll them all together in one massive omnibus bill. I guess the Liberals felt they were not being as effective in advancing their legislative agenda as they wanted to, but this is yet another case where we see the government going back on its promise. On the one hand is the commitment about how it would manage the parliamentary process, then we see, in practice, the government doing the exact opposite.
The arguments the Liberals use for bringing in these omnibus bills, which go against their previous commitments, are usually something to the effect of they think it is a really good bill, that there are a lot of good things in it, so they want to get it through. Whether it is a good bill is precisely what a robust parliamentary process is supposed to determine. That is why the appropriate level of scrutiny is necessary. There will probably be an opportunity to pull all sorts of quotes from the member for Winnipeg North and others decrying these process elements, which are now being deployed with full force under the Liberal government.
We have in front of us an omnibus bill. There are a number of different elements I want to discuss, as well as more broadly the government's failure to manage the justice system effectively.
Members will understand and appreciate how important the effective functioning of our justice system is, especially in a context where the courts have ruled that cases can be thrown out if they do not proceed within a particular time frame. We have seen very serious charges not proceed, simply on the basis of time and delay. Therefore, the management of the criminal justice system so these delays do not happen, so people are actually brought to justice on time, is critical for the protection of society and for ensuring justice is done for victims, for the criminal, and for everyone.
Why do we have this growing problem of delays? The most obvious reason, and a reason the government has been steadfast in refusing to address, is the government's failure to appoint judges.
The fact is, it took six months for the justice minister to appoint a single judge. The government lauds its judicial appointments on various fronts. I am sure that any justice minister would laud their own appointment choice, but we have to get the job done. It is fundamental to the effectiveness of our justice system that we achieve quality and the necessary quantity so that the work can proceed. Appointing justices should be the easy part. I do not suspect that there is any shortage of qualified people in this country who are interested in the position, yet the government has been very slow to proceed, and this has created a significant concern.
It is not as if nobody was suggesting the Liberals take action. Thank goodness we have a strong opposition, and a strong shadow minister and shadow deputy minister of justice who were specifically calling very early on for the government to move forward with the appointment of justices.
I can hear my friend for St. Albert—Edmonton asking the justice minister when she would finally do her job and start appointing judges. The justice minister responded to those questions day after day in question period, yet despite those questions being posed by the Conservatives, we simply did not see action.
We have this issue with court delays, and the government now seems to believe that one of the solutions to court delays is to reduce the penalty to allow for summary convictions. The effect of that is lower sentences for very serious crimes. That is sold by the government as a solution to a problem that it has created, but let us apply Occam's razor and try and take that obviously simpler solution, which is that the justice minister should do her job and appoint the necessary number of judges to ensure that we do not have court delays.
In the context of justifying itself, the government is saying that we are going to have summary convictions to try to fix the problem that we created. The Liberals are not admitting it, but that is the implication of what they are saying. We see proposals for summary convictions, meaning reduced charges for all kinds of various serious crimes. I think it is important for the House to identify and look at some of these crimes for which they are proposing reduced sentences. This is not an exhaustive list, but I want to identify some of the key ones.
There is participation in the activity of a terrorist group. I do not recall ever receiving phone calls in my office from people saying that we should have lighter sentences for those who participate in terrorist groups. Maybe members across the way have had a different experience. However, I do not think, especially in the present time and climate, that people are looking for that kind of approach with regard to those who are involved in a terrorist group.
As well, there is leaving Canada to participate in activities of a terrorist group. There is a possibility now that going to fight abroad with a terrorist organization like Daesh could be a subject of summary conviction and therefore lower sentences. There are other serious offences, but I would highlight those two terrorism-related offences, which are the first ones on my list for which we are hearing proposals in the proposed legislation for lighter sentences.
Concealment of identity while taking part in a riot would be a possible summary conviction, as well as breach of trust by a public officer. The idea of lighter sentences for public officers who breach trust is interesting. Why would the Liberals be proposing lighter sentences for public officers who breach trust? I cannot imagine why the Liberals are proposing lighter sentences for public officers who breach trust. We might pontificate about that, but I would perhaps risk venturing into unparliamentary territory.
There is municipal corruption. For example, if a former MP became the mayor of London, hypothetically, there is a possibility of lighter sentences for municipal corruption.
There is selling or purchasing office. I want to reassure the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities that this does not refer to selling or purchasing office equipment. This is selling or purchasing an office itself, which is a criminal offence. However, now it would possibly be a matter of summary conviction.
Another is influencing or negotiating appointments or dealing in offices. It is interesting that so many elements of political corruption are being proposed for lighter sentences in this bill. It is very interesting, but I cannot imagine why that would be.
For prison breach, there is a proposal for lighter sentences. Assisting a prisoner of war to escape is something that I hope does not happen often. It does not seem to me that this offence would be a good candidate for a lighter sentence, but the justice minister, and through this bill the government, is proposing lighter sentences in that case.
Obstructing or violence to or arrest of officiating clergymen is an item I want to come back to. It is something dealing with section 176 of the Criminal Code that we have already had some discussion on in this place. The government made some commitments with regard to not changing that section, and now it has gone back on those commitments by trying to re-engage that section through Bill C-75. I will come back to that and talk about it in more detail in a few minutes.
There are also lighter sentences proposed for keeping a common bawdy house and for causing bodily harm by criminal negligence.
There are three drunk-driving-related offences: impaired driving causing bodily harm; blood alcohol level over legal limit, with bodily harm; and failure or refusal to provide a sample, with bodily harm. Canadians who are concerned about combatting drunk driving and drug-impaired driving should be, and I think are, a bit frustrated by some of the back-and-forth that we see from the current government. It is frustrating to me as I follow the positions the Liberals take on some things and not on others.
A member of the Conservative caucus proposed a very strong private member's bill that included a number of provisions dealing with drunk driving. That bill was supported by, I think, all members of this House at second reading. Then it was killed after committee, yet many very similar provisions were included in the government's bill, Bill C-46. The government has not been able to pass that bill ahead of its marijuana legislation. The Liberals said it is critical we have these provisions around drunk driving in place, and they proposed it at the same time as Bill C-45, the marijuana legalization bill. They said these things were important together, and they are willing at the same time to pass the marijuana legalization bill ahead of the drunk and drug-impaired driving bill.
Many of the same provisions were already proposed by a Conservative private member's bill. I recall the speech the parliamentary secretary for justice gave at the same time with respect to my colleague's private member's bill, when he quibbled with the bill on such trivial grounds as the coming-into-force date of the bill being too soon. They said they could not pass this bill combatting drunk driving officially because the coming-into-force date was too soon. They can propose an amendment to change that. It was really because the Liberals wanted to try to claim credit for some of the provisions there. Again, we have this further question about the government's response on issues of alcohol-impaired driving because they are creating conditions for a summary conviction around that issue.
Let me list some other offences: receiving a material benefit associated with trafficking; withholding or destroying documents associated with trafficking; abduction of a person under 16; abduction of a person under 14; material benefit from sexual services; forced marriage; polygamy; marriage under age of 16 years; advocating genocide; arson for fraudulent purposes; participating in activities of criminal organizations.
We have a great deal of discussion about the government's feminist agenda, and yet on some of these crimes, such as forced marriage or polygamy, crimes that very often involve an abusive situation targeting young women, the government is reducing sentencing that targets those who commit those kinds of crimes. It is unfortunate to see the government talking about trying to respond to some of these problems that exist, and then when it comes to criminal justice, they think it is acceptable to propose lighter sentences in these cases.
I have a number of other comments I will make about this bill in the time I have left to speak.
There is a proposal in this legislation to get rid of peremptory challenges. This is a provision that we are interested in studying and exploring, but I think that even if there is an inappropriate use of peremptory challenge in some cases, we should be careful not to throw out a provision if there may be other negative consequences that have not been discussed.
Some of the discussion around peremptory challenges suggests, on the one hand, that they can be used to remove people from juries on the basis of racial profiling. Essentially, somebody is racially profiled and presumed to think in a certain way, so they are removed on the basis of a peremptory challenge.
People have countered those criticisms by saying that on the other hand, peremptory challenges could be used against those who express or have expressed or give indication of having extreme or bigoted views. Sometimes the law needs to recognize other potential impacts that are maybe not being fully foreseen.
We think this issue of peremptory challenges is very much worthy of study at the committee level, but I encourage members, in the spirit of appropriate legislative caution, to work out and consider the full consequences of changes to the structure of our jury system, recognizing that even if there may be negative consequences to this provision in particular situations, removing peremptory challenges may create other unconsidered negative consequences as well.
I want to speak about section 176. This is a very important section of the Criminal Code that specifically addresses the targeting of religious officials or the disruption of worship, things that in many cases would likely lead to some charge anyway, though not in every case. It ensures that somebody who is trying to disrupt the practice of faith is treated in an proportionate way. That is what section 176 does.
The government had previously tried to get rid of section 176, to remove it from the Criminal Code. The justification was weak. It said that because the language used was “clergymen”, it was somehow narrow in its definition and applied to only one faith and one gender. The point was amply made in response that although the language was somewhat archaic, it was very clear that it applied broadly to any religious official and to any religious institution.
The section was subsequently qualified. There is nothing wrong with clarifying the language, but it was always clear and never seriously in dispute that it applied broadly and on an equal basis.
It was through public pressure, the work of the opposition in partnership with many groups in civil society in raising the alarm about this, that the government backed away at the time from its proposal to remove section 176. Now section 176 is back before us. The government is not proposing to remove it; it is just proposing to change it to a possible summary conviction, again meaning a lighter sentence.
Again we are raising a question that is similar to the discussion around drunk driving. There is this kind of back-and-forth, bait and switch approach with the government, but it is clear that there is this repeated attempt to weaken the laws that protect religious institutions and the practice of faith. Some of the time the government is very glad to trumpet its commitment—for instance, in its talk about combatting Islamophobia—but when we have a concrete provision in the Criminal Code that protects people's ability to practise their faith without interruption, we see not one but multiple attempts by the government to move against it.
There is so much more to say about Bill C-75, which is over 300 pages, that I could talk for hours, but my time has expired.