Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Motion No. 161, a motion that calls for a study on the impacts of people in Canada with a criminal past who seek a record suspension.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I must say that this is not a pressing public safety or national security issue. It does not deal with the immediate concerns of gangs, guns, and violent crime, illegal border crossings, cybersecurity threats by foreign states, extremist attacks, or any kind of the myriad of crime concerns. However, while we debate the merits of the record suspension study, I have to say that my sympathies are generally not with those seeking a record suspension, but rather with the people who have been harmed by their crimes.
Record suspensions should not be something that anyone with a criminal past can get. Some crimes can and should remain forever on someone's record. The member for Saint John—Rothesay cites minor crimes committed years ago. However, it is the serious criminals and repeat offenders that are generally the concern, not one-time shoplifters. The fact is that one-time shoplifters are usually dealt with by means of alternative measures.
For the member's information, records do not prevent someone from obtaining employment. As an employer myself years back, I had many employees in my operation who had criminal records. It did not prevent them at all from working.
What we are talking about today are those with a record of a serious crime, like sexual assault, child abuse, trafficking, homicide, and other violent crimes. While I appreciate that some of those convicted of these types crimes have a difficult time, a burden they have brought upon themselves in most cases, having a record creates a deterrent. It is a reminder that these crimes are not welcome in society.
As a person of faith, I do believe in forgiveness. However, it is easy to forgive when we are not the victim. Forgiveness is easy when it requires no sacrifice. It is, and continues to be, the top priority of this House to protect Canadians, ahead of political gains and party standing. I believe that the language of this motion, which focuses on the hardships of convicted criminals, once again follows the trend of the current Liberal government to be soft on criminals. It should place the consideration of victims and honest, hard-working Canadians first.
Under the previous Conservative government, record suspensions were put more in line with our values as a society. We removed the term “pardon” to reflect that this was not an elimination of their past, but rather a recognition of the efforts made by those individuals to change their criminal past and live an honest contributing life within our society.
The Conservatives also removed criminals like child predators and repeat offenders with three or more indictable offences from being eligible to receive a pardon. As the member mentioned in his speech, this issue is not about a teenager shoplifting but about record suspensions for serious criminals.
The Conservatives also made it a user-pay model, so that taxpayers did not have to cover the costs of record suspension reviews.
Finally, the number of years that people with serious criminal convictions, like violence and sexual crimes, had to demonstrate that they were rehabilitated before they could obtain a record suspension doubled. Summary conviction offences went from three years to five years. Indictable offences went from five years to 10 years. To me, this is common sense. Actions have consequences, and those who have acted in a manner that many in our society might find unforgivable have longer-lasting consequences.
As someone who has worked in law enforcement and experienced the dark side of our society and complete lack of value that some place on other humans and human life, it is hard to reconcile those experiences with the sympathies of my Liberal colleagues. Looking at how many Liberals in the government have viewed public safety to date, I cannot say that the country we are building is safer than that of our past. Rather than feeling sympathy for victims of crime and defending those who respect and honour our laws, the Liberals seem to place misguided sympathy with those who have committed the crimes.
In Bill C-75, for example, which is the new Liberal legislation to change the criminal justice system, the Minister of Justice is seeking to water down protections for clergy. Having recently withdrawn from its previous position after considerable backlash from Canadians, the government has again sought to lower or remove protections against clergy in Canada. At a time of heightened hate crimes and increased religious conflict, we are making it easier to carry out a crime against any religious group. The government is giving lighter sentences on assaults with weapons, terrorism, rioting, and corruption. I have not met a Canadian who has asked us to water down protections. That certainly was not the Liberal mandate that the government received from Canadians.
However, the Liberals are getting tougher on some, primarily on law-abiding gun owners. The new gun legislation, Bill C-71, creates more rules and red tape, and potentially criminalizes honest Canadians who have not broken the law or harmed anyone. It is a regulatory bill, not a public safety bill. It appears that the Liberals' policy is to lighten penalties on criminals, make life harder for those who follow the law, and ignore real threats to Canadians by reducing penalties for serious crimes. It is hard to reconcile how a government so obsessed with image and photo shoots could be so completely out of touch with the needs of Canadians.
Any changes to our country's criminal justice system must place victims first. Too often, victims pay the price while the system works for criminals. For those with a criminal history, it is not up to society to change for them. Actions have consequences, and we have a path laid out to rehabilitation through prison and parole systems. Criminals who have been released must take on their own rehabilitation to earn their place back into being a productive member of society. No one can earn that for them, and no one else can give it to them. As Thomas Paine once said, “That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.” If we hand out record suspensions with ease, they are, by human nature, valued less.
I am particularly concerned of the potential risk that softer record suspension rules will have on vulnerable sectors in our society. We know that agencies all across this country ask law enforcement to perform tens of thousands of vulnerable sector checks each year on individuals seeking to work or volunteer with our society's most vulnerable, namely, our children, our disabled, and our seniors. If record suspensions become easier to obtain, if the types of crimes for which someone can have his or her record expunged are expanded, and if the time it takes to demonstrate that one's life is truly free from crime is reduced, the possibility exists for increased risk for the vulnerable to be victimized. That is unacceptable.
Therefore, I am left, when looking at this motion and the various other public safety measures the government has proposed, to ask, where is the plan? There does not appear to be a plan, and that is not appropriate for this House, which should place the protections of the innocent first.
With violent crimes affecting local communities, gang violence taking the lives of so many young Canadians, and a drug crisis that continues to tear families apart, this House has important things to consider, and I just cannot say this is a top priority. Some crimes have the ability to shake our collective feeling of security across our communities and our country. In 2014, this House was shaken by an armed assault. In 2017, in Edmonton, an ISIS-inspired terrorist attacked a police officer and tried to kill other people with a van. Just last month in Toronto, all of us witnessed the madness that killed 10 people. We were not able to save those who were killed or injured, but we certainly should not reward the perpetrators and punish the victims.
Canadians want a government that ensures criminals face the full extent of the law. The Hon. Margaret Thatcher was fond of saying, “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.”
This motion tells us where the belief and attention is for the Liberal government. It is not with victims. It is not with law-abiding Canadians. It is not with police or national security. It seems to be with criminals.
I would caution my colleagues in government that their actions speak loudly to Canadians. Canadians are on the side of victims, police, and safer streets and communities, and they are on the side of families. Being on the wrong side of that will determine each of our political destinies.