Thank you, Minister, and thanks to your officials as well for being with us today. It won't surprise you that I'm going to ask about something that has been called the elephant in the room in your criminal justice reforms, namely, the failure to address mandatory minimum penalties.
As you know, call to action number 32 in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report called on you to “amend the Criminal Code to allow trial judges, upon giving reasons, to depart from mandatory minimum sentences and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences”. It pointed out that this would assist in particularly addressing the specific needs of indigenous offenders.
Indeed, to my astonishment, the correctional investigator of Canada last year stated that although the first nation population of Canada is about 5%, fully over one-quarter of prisoners are indigenous, and in respect of indigenous women, over one-third of our incarcerated Canadians are indigenous. It was suggested that to address mandatory minimums would have a very positive effect on what I call the crisis of overrepresentation.
Today I had a press conference with my colleague, member of Parliament Sheri Benson, who tabled a private member's bill, Bill C-407, which is similar, by the way, to Senator Kim Pate's recently tabled Bill S-251. I should add that bill was prompted by high school students from Saskatoon, who chose this important measure as their primary suggested change in Canadian law. In the audience today, I recognize Brody Beuker and Camilo Silva, who drafted that bill, who helped in drafting that important measure.
Last, Minister, it was reported that fully over two-thirds of all charter challenges in the courts—256 charter challenges in the courts—are mandatory minimum sentence challenges. Imagine how much time and money it's taking to address that issue alone.
Minister, you came to office almost two years ago, and in a Globe and Mail article in November, you promised that new legislation on mandatory minimums was coming soon, “certainly in the early part of next year”. That was in the early part of last year.
My question for you is, will you be moving forward in a timely way with your commitment to address this crisis in over-incarceration of indigenous Canadians by way of fixing the mandatory minimums? Also, will you commit today to adopt the bills that I referenced earlier—the private member's bill, Bill C-407 , and the Senate bill, Bill S-251—or perhaps include them in Bill C-75 so we can address this important issue?