An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

Sponsor

David Lametti  Liberal

Status

Second reading (House), as of April 13, 2021

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-22.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to, among other things, repeal certain mandatory minimum penalties, allow for a greater use of conditional sentences and establish diversion measures for simple drug possession offences.

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

April 13th, 2021 / 1:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Patrick Weiler Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-22, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which was introduced a couple months ago and proposes some important reforms to reduce the over-incarceration of indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities.

As we all know, a fair and effective criminal justice system is critical to ensuring that Canadians feel safe in their communities, have confidence in the justice system, and have trust that offenders are being held accountable in a manner that is equitable, transparent, and promotes public safety in Canada. The unfortunate reality is that far too many people face discrimination and systemic racism in all stages of our criminal justice system. For example, indigenous adults represent 5% of the general population, but 30% of federally incarcerated inmates. Black Canadians represent 3% of the Canadian population, but 7% of federal offenders.

This is a clear problem that has been exacerbated by “tough on crime” sentencing policies, including the indiscriminate and broad use of mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment, or MMPs, as well as added restrictions placed on the availability of conditional sentencing orders, or CSOs. MMPs run counter to the fundamental principle of sentencing, namely that sentences must be individually tailored to the particular circumstances of the offence and the degree of the responsibility of the offender before the court. An excessive use of MMPs implies that we do not have trust in the judiciary to hand out sentences that fit the acts of the crime.

Rather than giving that to the judge, who would have heard all of the evidence that had been tested in court between the prosecution and the defence, it assumes that Ottawa knows best. It assumes that parliamentarians should institute blanket penalties regardless of the facts.

This one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing denies the reality that offences can be committed in a broad range of circumstances with varying degrees of seriousness. For example, someone who steals to feed their family is arguably less blameworthy than someone who steals goods to sell on the black market. This one-size-fits-all sentencing has too often used the latter example as a baseline for sentencing laws, and this has created problems in our justice system. This is one of the reasons MMPs are often found to constitute cruel and unusual punishment and are thus found to be unconstitutional for violating section 12 of the charter.

There are other reasons we should only utilize MMPs in the narrowest of situations. Number one is that they do not make our communities safer. The weight of evidence shows that minimum sentences do not deter crime, reduce rates of reoffending or make our communities any safer. Rather, it has been shown that they increase recidivism.

Number two is that they have a massive cost to society. The average cost of incarceration per person is over $125,000 a year. Number three is that unfair sentences are more likely to be appealed up to the highest court of the land, and this puts a strain on DOJ resources, gums up our court system and impacts the timely administration of justice.

This is an issue because the evidence shows that trials now take longer. Between 1996 and 2018, the time from first appearance to decision increased 228% for firearms offences and 60% for drug offences, and charter challenges to MMPs now represent 47% of all constitutional challenges to federal criminal laws. Over the last 10 years, 69% of charter challenges related to drug offences with mandatory minimum penalties have been successful, and it is the same for 49% of firearms MMPs.

The last minister of justice for the Conservative party claimed he was going to put away “the worst of the worst” during the tough on crime mandate of the Harper years, but the outcome has simply been a massive increase of unjust sentences forced on offenders, which the Supreme Court continues to deem unconstitutional.

Bill C-22 represents an important step forward, providing alternatives to incarceration where appropriate, including for indigenous and Black Canadians. One important component of the proposed reforms is a series of amendments to the conditional sentencing regime that would allow the regime to fulfill its original purpose, namely to address the overreliance on incarceration for less serious crimes. A CSO allows an offender who does not pose a threat to public safety to serve a prison term of less than two years in the community under strict conditions, including house arrest and curfew.

The law governing CSOs provides judges with the ability to impose a broad range of conditions that balance public safety with other important objectives such as rehabilitation. For example, a judge can require an offender to attend an approved treatment program, which can help address the underlying reasons that led to offending in the first place.

Evidence shows that allowing offenders who do not pose a risk to public safety to serve their sentences in the community under strict conditions, while maintaining access to employment, community and health-related support systems, is more effective at reducing future criminality than harsh penalties such as incarceration. In certain circumstances, it can provide the environment for offenders to take responsibility for the harm they caused to the victim by their actions, as well as take responsibility for their actions through restorative justice.

I have had the opportunity to see the excellent work that the North Shore Restorative Justice Society and the Restorative Justice Program of the Sunshine Coast have done in this regard. This is well known to be a powerful way of not only reducing recidivism, but also helping communities heal.

Having established why MMPs are problematic, it is worth highlighting that they are particularly so in drug cases. This is top of mind in my province of British Columbia, where more people have been killed by the opioid epidemic since the pandemic reached our shores than have passed away from COVID-19. Rather than treat substance use and addiction as a moral issue, we need to continue to take steps to treat it as a health issue, so that we can get help to those individuals who are suffering.

Bill C-22 would require police to consider other measures for simple possession of drugs, such as diversion to addiction treatment programs rather than laying charges and necessitating incarceration. In doing so, we would diminish the danger associated with substance abuse by no longer forcing individuals to use drugs in secrecy out of fear of punishment and incarceration. It would prevent a vicious cycle where Canadians incarcerated as a result of drug charges become more likely to recommit the same crime and use again. Instead, pursuing alternatives to incarceration would allow real healing to take place, which is necessary if we are to combat the opioid crisis, which has particularly wreaked tragedy in the privacy of people's homes.

That takes me to my next point. In 2020, the majority of fatal drug overdoses took place in privacy and solitude. By contrast, zero deaths have occurred at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites in B.C. because of medical interventions from staff. When simple drug use no longer needs to be concealed out of fear of criminal prosecution, government programs that provide for safer supply are possible, and we create the space for treatment to rehabilitate those suffering from addiction. This method has shown success in communities across my riding, and they have overwhelming community support.

In Sechelt, the Sunshine Coast’s first sanctioned safe consumption site was established last July. There, trained staff provide support, which includes access to naloxone, counselling, overdose response and education, drug checking, and detox treatment options. A couple months ago, an overdose prevention site opened in Squamish. This new site is dedicated to the memory of the late Squamish resident Sarah Jane Thompson, a vocal advocate for harm reduction who tragically died of drug toxicity during a relapse in November.

To sum up, this legislation makes some important improvements to our criminal justice system. It gets rid of unfair laws, which do nothing to make our communities safer, but which pose a massive cost on the public, impact our institutions, and disproportionately impact indigenous and Black Canadians and other marginalized communities. In its place, we will create real opportunities for individuals to get the help they need, while allowing for rehabilitation and reintegration of our communities and create safer communities as a result.

I urge all members to support this important bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 1:45 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today on this very important bill, Bill C-22, which I have to say, having served in Parliament representing Saanich—Gulf Islands during the time many of the mandatory minimums were brought in, is disappointing on a number of levels.

As I recall it from memory, I think it was Mr. Harper's omnibus bill, Bill C-10, and we fought really hard against it at the time. There was no evidence whatsoever from any jurisdiction that mandatory minimums worked. I am disappointed. Why, when 43 mandatory minimums have already been found to be unconstitutional by courts across this country, are only 19 of them being removed?

We could go farther. We should do more. Perhaps a willingness to take on more in committee would be salutary. We certainly would not remove mandatory minimums with this bill, which do not work. They just cause increased congestion in prisons, and, as we know, provinces have to take on those costs.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 1:35 p.m.
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Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country.

I want to wish everyone celebrating the first day of Ramadan a very blessed Ramadan Mubarak.

It is with pleasure that I speak to Bill C-22, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These proposed reforms represent an important step in our government's continuing efforts to make our criminal justice system fairer for everyone by seeking to address the overrepresentation of indigenous, Black and other members of marginalized and racialized communities.

Bill C-22 focuses on existing laws, which have exacerbated the underlying social, economic, institutional and historic disadvantages that contribute to systemic inequalities at all stages of the criminal justice system, from the first contact with law enforcement through to sentencing.

Issues of systemic racism and discrimination in the Canadian criminal justice system are well documented, including by commissions of inquiry: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System.

I will be candid in saying that it was to address such inequalities and racism that I originally ran for office in this chamber. This objective has been fostered by my progressive constituents in Parkdale—High Park who attend Black Lives Matter rallies in large numbers, who focus on reconciliation and the need to address systemic discrimination against indigenous persons, and who have attended a regular series of discussions that I have held as a member of Parliament on the issue of combatting systemic racism in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet, which occurred in my riding.

As a nation and as a continent, I firmly believe that we are seized with a moment and a movement now that Canadians are no longer willing to tolerate systemic racism and systemic discrimination. It is in that vein that our government is acting in response. Bill C-22 is a key part of that response to help remove systemic barriers that Black, indigenous and people of colour face in this country.

We know that the Parliamentary Black Caucus, as represented by members of all parties in this chamber, in June 2020 called for “reform the justice and public safety systems to weed out anti-Black racism, systemic bias, and make the administration of justice and public security more reflective of and sensitive to the diversity of our country”. As an ally, I was pleased to sign this statement, as were numerous cabinet ministers in our government, including the Minister of Justice himself.

All of these calls to action have recognized that sentencing laws, in particular the broad and indiscriminate use of mandatory minimums and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences, have made our criminal justice system less fair and have disproportionately hurt certain communities in Canada. To draw the juxtaposition as clearly as possible, there is a difference between being tough on crime, as the previous Conservative government purported to be, and being smart on crime, which is exactly what we, as Liberals, are doing with this legislation before us and other initiatives. This is precisely why Bill C-22 proposes to repeal a number of MMPs, including for all drug-related offences and for some firearms-related offences. Although some MMPs would be retained for serious offences, such as murder and serious firearms offences linked to organized crime, data shows overwhelmingly that the MMPs that would be repealed have particularly contributed to the over-incarceration of indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and other racialized and marginalized people. Members heard me put that to the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry in the questions and answers that preceded this speech.

This bill would also increase the availability of conditional sentence orders, CSOs. This is a critical facet that has not been focused on enough: conditional sentence orders in cases where offenders do not pose a risk to public safety. CSOs allow offenders to serve sentences of less than two years in the community under strict conditions, such as house arrest or a curfew, while still being able to benefit from employment; educational opportunities; and family, community and health-related support systems.

In order to appreciate the pressing need for these reforms, we have to look back at the foundational principles of sentencing in this country. The fundamental purposes of sentencing in Canada are the result of trail-blazing reforms that were made in 1996, which created a statutory recognition that sentencing is and must be an individualized process that relies on judicial discretion to impose just sanctions. Such sanctions are proportionate to the degree of responsibility of the offender and the seriousness of the offence. The member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford just referenced this individualized nature in his most recent intervention.

To achieve just sanctions, the 1996 reforms directed judges to take into account a number of sentencing principles, including rehabilitation and deterrence. Some of these principles acknowledge that in sentencing less serious crimes, imprisonment is often ineffective, unduly punitive and to be discouraged. The sentencing principles also recognized the need to address the over-incarceration of indigenous persons who were at the time already overrepresented in the criminal justice system. This was in 1996. What has happened since then, including after 10 years of the Harper government, are some of the statistics I have already indicated in the course of this debate.

As such, the amendments to the Criminal Code directed judges to consider all sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances before choosing to send an offender to jail. This principle applies to all offenders and requires judges to pay particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous persons.

In order to give full effects to these remedial principles, the 1996 reforms created conditional sentences of imprisonment to allow courts to order that terms of imprisonment of less than two years be served in the community under certain conditions. An offender could be eligible for a conditional sentence if serving their sentence in the community would not pose a risk to public safety, that the offence for which they are convicted is not subject to a mandatory minimum and that the community-based sentence would be consistent with the fundamental purposes of sentencing.

However, the increased use of mandatory minimums for a broad range of offences and the enactment by the previous Conservative government of additional restrictions on the availability of conditional sentences has restricted judicial discretion and made it difficult for courts to effectively apply these principles. As a result, these tough-on-crime, Harper government measures have made our criminal justice system less effective by discouraging the early resolution of cases. These measures have eroded public confidence in the administration of justice, something that is a hallmark of the rule of law in this country and is actually entrenched in the charter in section 24.

By far the most problematic consequence of these sentencing laws has been the disproportionate impact on Black, indigenous and persons of colour. In fact, the jurisprudence indicates how these processes and policies have failed, the policies of the previous Conservative government.

The Ontario Court of Appeal found in its 2020 decision in Sharma that certain of the limits on conditional sentence orders enacted in 2012 undermined the purpose of the Gladue principle by limiting the court's ability to impose a fit sentence that takes the offender's circumstances into account. The Court of Appeal held that those limits perpetuate a discriminatory impact against indigenous offenders in that sentencing process.

If I am going to zoom out, what I would say is that we, as a government on this side of the aisle, do not believe in handcuffing judges. What we believe is in empowering them to consider the overall situation of the accused. This is exemplified in Bill C-22, but also in other things that were captured in the fall economic statement, such as our approach to Gladue principles, our approach to community justice centres and to funding impact of race and culture assessments so the judges, when faced with an accused who is Black, indigenous or a person of colour, can look at the overall context of that individual and address a specifically tailored remedy for that situation to cure this malaise of overrepresentation.

The bill targets the sentencing policies and in doing so would restore the courts' ability to effectively enforce the fundamental objective and principles of sentencing and ensure that sentences are tailored to the individual and to the circumstances of the case.

Although it is important to ensure that fair and compassionate sentences are imposed, it is equally important to ensure that measures are in place to avoid contact with the criminal justice system in the first place. That is why Bill C-22 would require police and prosecutors to consider alternatives to laying and proceeding with charges for the simple possession of drugs, such as issuing a warning, taking no action or diversion to addiction treatment programs. Again, this came up in my questions put to the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry with respect to police and law enforcement being behind this provision of the bill.

We want to focus on getting individuals the help they need, whether that be treatment programs, housing or mental health support, instead of criminalizing them. These measures are consistent with our public health-centred approach to substance use and the opioid epidemic in this country. Together, these measures would encourage responses that take into account the individual's experience with systemic racism and health-related issues, and the particular supports they could benefit from. These reforms would allow police, prosecutors and courts to give full effect to the important principle of restraint in sentencing, particularly for indigenous offenders, and explore approaches that focus on restorative justice, rehabilitation of the individual and reintegration into the community.

It is essential that Canadians have confidence in the system and that it be there to protect them, not harm them. These reforms reflect what we have heard from Canadians, particularly now in the wake of this movement and us being awoken to the issue of systemic racism and systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system. I will leave it at that and I look forward to questions from colleagues on all sides of the chamber.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Eric Duncan Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be back in the House today to speak to Bill C-22, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This has been an issue. We come to Parliament with different goals and priorities both from our ridings perspective and also from our personal passion. One of my passions has not only been the subject of mental health but has been addictions and treatment as well, which be should be the core of this bill.

COVID-19 in the last 14 months has obviously shown that the virus is a serious public health threat for our country and for the global community, but also the growing angst and mental health challenges that many Canadians are facing is certainly something we are not talking enough about or acknowledging enough. When we look at the statistics, suicides have been increasing and issues with addictions have certainly been on the rise as well, which is unfortunate.

For those who know me, I am a political junky not only in Canada but I follow U.S. and U.K. politics quite closely. There are few examples where my view has been changed or a light has gone off, an aha moment has happened for me, more than watching the U.S. presidential election, going back to 2016. I try not to bring too much American politics into our House of Commons, but I certainly think this example and this perspective is one to which we need to listen.

At that time, the former New Jersey governor Chris Christie was running for president and was in the state of New Hampshire. For those who know the state of New Hampshire and follow politics as closely like I do, a serious opioid crisis has beleaguered that state for many years. The number of people who have become addicted and unfortunately the number of people who have lost their lives is a real crisis in that state. Chris Christie was doing a town hall, and there is a video of that. I would encourage Canadians following this debate to look at that video. It is about a six to eight minute clip. In that video, he tells the story of his late mother and his law school friend back in the day, and it certainly hit home for me.

As a society, we have to look at addictions and substance abuse in this country differently from the way we have in the past. In politics, we talk about being more compassionate, the lens in which we see people and empathy. This is one where we need to do that.

Chris Christie talked about his mother who was diagnosed with cancer numerous times. The first time she was diagnosed she went to the hospital, was treated and went into remission. Unfortunately the cancer came back. She went back to the health care system, had treatment again and beat cancer a second time. It came back a third time. At no point did anybody in the health care system say, “Sorry, you have had cancer three times, it's is a lost cause, we're not going to treat you any more.” That would be an absurd proposition for a doctor, or a government or a state to say. He said that we had to think that way when it came to addictions. People who have substance abuse problems do not belong in a prison cell; they belong in rehabilitation. They need help to get their lives back on track. This is so important. Substance abuse and addictions know no barrier when it comes to gender, race or income level. It can impact and wreck anyone's life.

I want to speak today to Bill C-22 because as a Parliament, as we begin to have these conversations, more Canadians have a degree of separation, where unfortunately a friend, or a neighbour or a colleague has battled substance abuse or abuse issues. People are becoming more compassionate and know that we do not have enough services in the country when it comes to rehabilitation.

The government had the opportunity to bring a bill forward that could address this. I think we would find strong support in the House and across the country if we were to say that we would look people with simple minor possessions. As opposed to putting them through the criminal justice system or throwing them in prison with a long sentence, we would look at them with a focus on rehabilitation. That would be great.

Some parts of the bill address that. However, it goes way beyond what is reasonable in terms of prevention. Our legislation and laws need to look after individuals who need help, who need rehabilitation. However, our legislation and law enforcement should focus on people who prey on those with addictions, those who are trafficking, those who are preying on them and those who are turning to violence when it comes to drug trafficking. If we had that in the bill, I believe there would be strong support for it. I was very disheartened when I saw the opportunity for a bill to come forward on criminal justice reform but then saw the government add several pieces that would go way beyond that.

Bill C-22 would eliminate a number of mandatory minimum sentences when it comes to gun crimes, for example, robbery with a firearm, extortion with a firearm, weapons trafficking, importing or exporting knowing it is unauthorized, discharging a firearm with intent, possession for purpose of weapons trafficking and the list goes on.

Furthermore, there is an expansion of conditional sentencing. The bill would allow for a greater conditional sentence, such as house arrest, for a number of offences where the offender faces terms of less than two years of imprisonment. The following offences are now eligible: prison breach; criminal harassment; sexual assault; kidnapping; abduction of a person under the age of 14; trafficking or exporting schedule 3 drugs, like LSD; breaking and entering a place other than a house or dwelling; and arson for fraudulent purposes.

We do not need to make it easier for those criminals and people who prey in drug trafficking and drug control. We need to clamp down more than ever on them. We need to provide supports for those with addiction issues who need it. We talk about reducing this, but to go out now with a message to say that we will lessen sentences, give house arrest, and not take these types of serious offences as seriously as we have in the past is the wrong message to send as a Parliament, if we pass this legislation.

We have an opportunity here in the coming weeks and months to improve this. I hope the government makes serious amendments to the bill that focus on exactly what I have spent the last seven or eight minutes talking about. There is not a dollar more for a rehabilitation treatment centre anywhere in the country or a commitment to do more. We need to focus on that.

We need to let people know that government is here for them when they need support. We need to send a very strong message to those who are trafficking, those who are in the drug trade, that the police and law enforcement will get the tools they need from this Parliament to go after them and stop these acts from happening.

I look forward to the debates as they go forward, but the bill goes much further than what I believe a majority of Canadians want. They want more compassion for individuals who have an addiction or substance abuse issue, and tougher enforcement.

The law enforcement, front-line police officers are not asking us for less restrictions and penalties for those who are trafficking drugs. They are asking us to close loopholes. This revolving door that happens frustrates our law enforcement.

We had a private member's bill come forward from my colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville, a common-sense tough bill that would address the core issue and the core problem, and it is being ignored.

I look forward to the debate and to hear what my colleagues have to say. However, for a Canadian who is struggling, this bill does more to empower drug trafficking and those creating the root cause of this problem than finding solutions.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 1:10 p.m.
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Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his discussion this afternoon on Bill C-22.

One of the things the bill proposes is a reduction of mandatory minimums. A little known fact is that many of those mandatory minimums were put into effect by previous Liberal governments. I am wondering if the hon. member could speak to the consequences of lowering mandatory minimum sentences for the most severe crimes, which the bill proposes to diminish.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 1 p.m.
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Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I should let you know that I will be sharing my time with the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry.

I am pleased to rise virtually in the House to talk about Bill C-22, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The Liberals want to amend the Criminal Code to repeal certain mandatory minimum penalties, allow for a greater use of conditional sentences and establish other measures for simple drug possession offences.

Bill C-22 is the Prime Minister's attempt to honour his 2015 campaign promise. Unfortunately, every time we examine Liberal bills in committee or in the House, we find major flaws that suggest they never bother to consult people on the ground. That is the case with this bill too.

It is important to thoroughly analyze what the Liberals are trying to do with this bill, in which the Minister of Justice is proposing amendments that will have major consequences for Canadians' safety and well-being. I will point out various elements of the bill that I think are worth a closer look.

Bill C-22 eliminates some of the mandatory minimum sentences set out in the Criminal Code for offences involving weapons, including firearms. For example, the mandatory minimum sentence set out in subsection 85(3) for use of a firearm in the commission of an offence would be eliminated. The mandatory minimum sentence set out in subsection 92(3) for possession of an unauthorized weapon, whether it be a firearm or other weapon, would also be eliminated.

The bill eliminates all the mandatory minimum sentences set out in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The bill creates new provisions that advise the police or prosecutor to consider an individual's drug use and to refer the person to a treatment program. However, it is important to understand that some provinces do not even have drug treatment courts.

Bill C-22 also proposes to eliminate certain provisions of the Criminal Code related to tobacco, particularly the sale and transfer of tobacco products without an official licence. That is another thing that we are trying to understand. Finally, the bill proposes to eliminate some of the restrictions set out in section 742.1 of the Criminal Code so that more offences are eligible for community-based sentences.

Everything I just said contradicts the Liberals' official position on public safety as it relates to firearms. The message of Polytechnique was well understood, with the Liberals always claiming to be doing a lot and much more. However, the reality is that bills such as this hamper the courts and law enforcement and greatly diminish the significance of crime when the opposite should be happening.

We always have difficulty understanding how, on the one hand, the Liberal discourse is about tougher measures when, on the other hand, their actions have the opposite effect. This is totally inconsistent in terms of public safety and the protection of Canadians.

Today we are debating Bill C-22, but we cannot forget Bill C-21, an act to amend certain acts and to make certain consequential amendments with respect to firearms. There is no consensus on this other bill among gun supporters, such as owners of guns for sport shooting or hunting, or among those who oppose guns and want them to be banned, such as the Polytechnique advocates. Bill C-21 does not do nearly enough, and the Prime Minister is not addressing the real issues.

Bill C-22 would reduce the sentences for violent gun crimes. We are trying to understand why the government wants to reduce sentences for people who commit gun crimes, when we should be doing the opposite.

I remind members that the Conservatives and my colleague introduced Bill C-238, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to possession of unlawfully imported firearms, which would have strengthened the Criminal Code by addressing smuggled guns and gun crimes. However, the Liberals showed their true colours and chose to vote against this bill. They would rather protect criminals than protect law-abiding citizens.

We cannot understand it. We do not understand how the Liberals can be so dishonest with Canadians when it comes to protection, public safety and firearms. The introduction of Bills C-21 and C-22 is not going to do anything to reduce gun crime. It will also not do anything to reduce the number of guns circulating in Canada, and it will simply not prevent criminals from getting their hands on illegal firearms.

That was made very clear two weeks ago on J.E., a 30-minute investigative reporting program on TVA. I encourage everyone to watch it. Those who do not speak French should find a way to get it translated, because it is really good.

The report clearly showed what is happening with firearms in Canada, how illegal firearms from the United States are streaming right across the border. We have land management problems, our customs officers do not have sufficient resources, and the law does not allow action to be taken in certain areas. Aerial images taken by drones showed traffickers bringing in weapons by snowmobile in the winter and by boat in the summer. If members want evidence, here it is.

Montreal is starting to have the same problem as Toronto. It is easy for street gang members to get their hands on illegal firearms with the serial numbers scratched off, and young gang members are taking pride in committing crimes with the guns that are coming across the border.

Not one of the measures proposed in Bill C-21 and Bill C-22 will solve that problem even though that is what we need to focus on. Instead of helping people with drug addiction, the Liberals are reducing mandatory prison time for those producing and trafficking harmful drugs. Instead of tackling criminal gangs, they are reducing mandatory prison time for those in possession of illegal firearms.

No family should ever feel unsafe in their community, in their neighbourhood or walking down their street. The previous Conservative government pledged to change those laws and keep our streets and communities safe. Before the 2019 election, we released our platform entitled “A Safer Canada”, a three-pronged action plan targeting street gangs and arms trafficking, among other things. We covered it all in our platform.

Then the Liberals regained power. It was fortunate for them that they won the election, but it was unfortunate for Canadians because the Liberals are not doing what needs to be done to protect people and fix the firearms problem once and for all.

To read Bill C-22 we can only assume that the Liberals are incapable of discharging their governmental responsibility to ensure our safety. In contrast, the Conservative government always brought in measures to ensure the safety of all Canadians. The Prime Minister claims he wants to help Canadians, but he is doing nothing to ensure that criminals are brought to justice and answer for their actions.

We as Conservatives support our Canadian justice system as defined by our charter and our Constitution, and we do not support a justice system that would favour criminals to the detriment of Canadians's safety and security.

During this difficult time, Canadians need to know that the government is ensuring their safety and security. The Liberal government needs to show leadership and stand up to criminals. Canadians cannot afford for Parliament to get this wrong. This bill is extremely worrying for our children and for the future of our justice system.

We will do the job that Canadians have entrusted us to do: asking the government questions to ensure that the safety of Canadians remains the top priority.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Tony Van Bynen Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Speaker, today I join you from the traditional territories of the Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishinabe people and the treaty land of the Williams Treaties First Nations to speak to Bill C-22, particularly on the issue of MMPs, or mandatory minimum penalties, in the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The importance of equitable sentencing laws in the criminal justice system cannot be overstated. Indeed, imprisonment represents one of the most grave intrusions by the state into the lives of individuals and, as such, sentencing laws must be carefully reviewed to ensure that they reflect the values that Canadians hold dear. Unfortunately, there are inconsistencies with the current sentencing regime provided by the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that disproportionately impact indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities.

Bill C-22 proposes to repeal the particular MMPs that have shown to have the most significant impact on these communities, while ensuring that the courts can continue to impose sentences for violent and serious crimes that respond to their seriousness and the harm caused.

When considering the appropriate sanction for an offender in a criminal case, a judge must effectively balance the principles of proportionality, parity and restraint. The principle of proportionality requires a sentence to reflect the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The principle of parity requires it to be similar to those imposed on similar offenders in similar circumstances. Perhaps most importantly, the principle of restraint dictates that an offender should not be deprived of liberty if less restrictive sanctions can be appropriate under the circumstances.

Balancing these principles is a highly individualized process that demands an assessment of all relevant factors, including personal characteristics, life experiences and the individual standing before the court. However, when an offence carries an MMP, the minimum punishment is prescribed by law, which removes a certain amount of discretion from judges and means that they cannot impose sentences below the legislated minimum, even in cases where they find that a shorter period of imprisonment or no imprisonment at all would be an appropriate sentence given the circumstances of the offence.

While proponents of MMPs would argue that this ensures consistency and fairness in sentences for the same crime, the reality is that for some crimes this cannot and does not yield a fair result, which has negative impacts on the justice system at large, as well as on the victims. MMPs can be inconsistent with the direction of the Criminal Code requiring judges to use imprisonment with restraint and to consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders.

Between 2007 and 2017, data shows that indigenous and Black individuals were more likely to be admitted to federal custody for an offence punishable by an MMP than were other Canadians. In fact, the proportion of indigenous adults admitted with an offence punishable by an MMP almost doubled between those years, from 14% to 26%. Similarly, in 2018-19, Black persons represented 7.2% of the federal inmate population, but only 3% of the Canadian population.

Indigenous people and Black Canadians are particularly overrepresented for firearm and drug offences carrying MMPs. Specifically, Black Canadians comprised 43% of individuals convicted of importing and exporting drugs in 2016-17, while indigenous people comprised 40% of those admitted for a firearm-related offence in the same year.

Bill C-22 responds to this data by proposing to repeal MMPs for all drug offences in the CDSA, as well as for one tobacco-related offence and 13 firearm offences in the Criminal Code.

MMPs would remain for offences such as murder, sexual assault, all child sexual offences and for certain offences involving restricted or prohibited firearms or where the offence involves a firearm and is linked to organized crime.

While MMPs have been in place since the Criminal Code was first enacted, they were largely the exception until relatively recently. Over the last two decades, there has been an increased reliance on MMPs to further denounce crimes, deter offenders and separate them from society. The proliferation of MMPs has resulted in an increase in successful charter challenges at all levels of court, including the Supreme Court, culminating in two significant decisions. The first decision was Nur, in 2015, involving three- and five-year MMPs for illegal possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm, and the second was the Lloyd decision, in 2016, involving a one-year drug MMP. Both cases make it clear that the use of MMPs for offences that cover a broad range of conduct is susceptible to charter challenges. More charter challenges mean more trials, increased costs and delayed justice, outcomes that are good for no one.

It is my understanding that as of February 8, 2021, out of 560 ongoing charter challenges in Canada tracked by the federal Department of Justice, 47% are challenges to MMPs. The proposed reforms will therefore improve the efficiency of the justice system by lowering the volume of charter challenges in the courts, which put additional pressures on their already limited time and resources.

The MMPs being repealed in this bill have failed to achieve their purported objectives: deterrence and the protection of public safety. Research has shown that increases in the severity of sanctions actually increase the likelihood of recidivism, thus failing to deter crime or protect the safety of the public. We know that a justice system that provides a one-size-fits-all response to crime can be ineffective and lead to unjust results for victims, for offenders and for Canadians in general.

Courts must have the flexibility to order sentences that reflect the circumstances of each case. In some cases, jail will be appropriate, and this bill would not change the ability of judges to sentence offenders to incarceration when it is warranted. However, in other cases, sentences that more effectively address the root causes of the offence and that better address the harm caused may be more appropriate. I might add that they would be more effective in ensuring public safety as well, because they reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

The amendments proposed in Bill C-22 would ensure that the courts are still able to impose tough sentences for violent and serious crimes, while restoring their ability to consider the systemic factors that disproportionately impact indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and marginalized people, and impose non-custodial sentences or sentences of imprisonment below the MMP when satisfied that the sentence would be appropriate to the degree of responsibility of the offender and the gravity of the offence.

The reforms would also respond to recommendations from many stakeholders in the area of anti-racism and the criminal justice system, including key stakeholders in my riding of Newmarket-Aurora, whom I had the pleasure of bringing together for a conversation with the Minister of Justice back in October.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has also called for the elimination of indigenous overrepresentation in correctional institutions over the next decade, including through amendments to the Criminal Code in the area of MMPs. Similarly, in its final report, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called for all levels of government to evaluate the impact of MMPs on the over-incarceration of indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and to take appropriate action to address their over-incarceration. More recently, the parliamentary Black caucus, composed of senators and members from all parties, called for the elimination of MMPs in the statement issued on June 20, 2020, which I am proud to support.

Bill C-22 shows that we are listening to the calls of our fellow Canadians to bring about evidence-based reforms to the sentencing regime. The proposed amendments are an important step toward creating a justice system that represents and protects all Canadians in an equitable and non-discriminatory way.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 12:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would start my answer by simply suggesting we are talking today about Bill C-22, not about climate change, so let us stick to the topic. In the context of discretion of judges, judges are professional. They have great training and they have great abilities. As a new member of Parliament I clearly understand it to be part of my responsibility to make legislative decisions, to set laws and to set guidelines for judges and for the criminal justice system. I believe this is not a partisan issue. Many of the minimums that would be eliminated by the government were in fact introduced by previous Liberal governments. It is our job, in my understanding, as legislators and members of Parliament to, in fact, have input into these matters.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 12:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Gary Vidal Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to speak in the House today regarding Bill C-22.

This last weekend the Prime Minister, while speaking to the Liberal Party policy convention, said that the Conservative Party of Canada was disconnected with Canadians. If the Prime Minister was looking for an example of a party disconnected from Canadians, he need look no further than his own party with the introduction of this bill, Bill C-22, and how it would affect those in rural Canada.

As someone who has lived my whole life in northern Saskatchewan, I not only find this bill dangerously naive, but the government's communications around it are actually offensive to me. Of course, far be it for me to suggest anyone might deliberately mislead Canadians. Perhaps it is simply a poor understanding of the Criminal Code or the tendency to rely on divisive political ideology that led to the inaccuracies in communicating what is actually in this bill.

Contrary to what members of the Liberal Party may have been given as talking points by the PMO to use in the debate, those of us who actually read the legislation understand this is not about reducing mandatory minimum penalties for simple possession of drugs. Mandatory minimums for simple possession do not exist today. This is not about minor crimes, and it is not about minor offences.

Here are just a few examples of what Liberals consider minor offences for which Bill C-22 would eliminate mandatory minimums as they relate to gun crimes: robbery with a firearm, extortion with a firearm, weapons trafficking, importing or exporting knowing a firearm is unauthorized, discharging a firearm with intent, using a firearm in the commission of an offence, possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with ammunition, possession of a weapon obtained by the commission of an offence, possession for the purposes of weapons trafficking and discharging a firearm with recklessness.

Additionally, Bill C-22 would eliminate mandatory minimums under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that actually target drug dealers. Examples of these are trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting or possession for the purpose of exporting, and the production of substances included in schedule I or II. Examples of these are heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and crystal meth. This is not, as suggested, help for those who struggle with addictions. It is actually help for those criminals who prey on those people who suffer from addictions.

Finally, this bill would allow for greater use of conditional sentence orders for a number of offences. The list is long, so I will include only a few examples such as sexual assault, kidnapping and assault causing bodily harm or with a weapon, which includes the assaulting of a peace officer causing bodily harm or with a weapon. This clearly puts communities in my riding at risk.

As a lifelong resident of northern Saskatchewan, a hockey coach, a former mayor and now member of Parliament, I have seen first-hand how gun and gang violence, and drugs, ruin people's lives and devastate families and communities. I find myself wondering if members of the Liberal government have been contacted, like I have been, by mayors, chiefs, police officers and community members pleading for something to be done and if that would make them realize Bill C-22 is not a solution. Neither is Bill C-21.

One month ago, there was a story reported in the Battlefords News-Optimist that literally brought me to tears when I read it. I would encourage all members of this House to read the story, as it provides an incredible insight into what life can be like in the northern and often remote communities in my riding.

The story reviews a judge's decision, arguments by the Crown prosecutor and the victim impact statements of RCMP officer Robert McCready and of my good friend Staff Sergeant Ryan How. The incident, as reported, happened in my riding and shows an almost unbelievably violent disregard for human life. It includes multiple guns, pursuits, many other things, and finally, police ramming a vehicle.

In his victim impact statement, my friend Staff Sergeant Ryan How said the following:

When I encountered the gold truck you were in north of Loon Lake the only emotion I felt was sadness.

I knew right away how this was going to end. It’s always the same, just a varying degree of tragedy. When I saw your co-accused run from the Equinox and point what may have been a gun at me, I just felt tired and defeated....

I knew what you would do when you came up to the road block. And you did the same thing every other desperate criminal does - you accelerated and swerved towards the police.

As you did that, I took off my seatbelt and accelerated my truck directly at you. I wanted to be able to at least have the chance to manoeuver in the cab if you and your fellow gang members started shooting at me. As I lined up my truck to yours head-on I fully expected to be shot but I tried to make sure my truck would stay on a straight path and hit you even if I couldn’t steer because you needed to be stopped.... Even after all of this, after hours of chasing after you, hours of being frustrated, angry, and tired, [I] was required to be of calm mind and use sound tactics as I drew my gun on you and the people with you.... At that moment I was furious that it had come to this. I was furious that your stupidity was causing me to miss an important family event going on right at that moment I had you in my gun sights. I was furious that I might have to shoot and kill you.... I didn’t shoot you...My coworkers didn’t shoot you, even though we were taunted and dared to do it by the people in the truck with you. Even though your actions caused one of my coworkers to almost be run over and killed. We made sure you were safe. It was a joke and a game to you. It was life and death for me, for my partners, and the public. I’m telling you that on January 17, 2019, you were lucky to be arrested by some of the most capable and experienced police officers in the country. They showed incredible restraint and professionalism to make sure you lived to be here today.

Another one of those capable and experienced police officers was Officer Robert McCready, who was called in six hours before his shift was scheduled to begin. A short part of his victim impact statement includes the following. He said:

I had been in Loon Lake for a while at that time, and had a feeling that it was probably related to gang activity, firearms or both. I got geared up and found that gang members/affiliates have possible firearms and are driving in two vehicles and are evading police. My thoughts are “great, here we go again.” This was a constant way of life around that area, something would pop off, at least once to twice a week or more.... This went on all afternoon, which took a bad turn when the vehicle started going through a populated area, just as school was letting off, and for fear of worsening conditions, police had to back off again.

In speaking with Staff Sergeant How later, he shared with me how these events had become almost routine. Can members imagine this being a routine part of their day? This is the part that brought tears to my eyes as I fought back the emotion.

Let me be clear, this day was the culmination of a long history, but it had to start somewhere. The idea that government is seeking to eliminate mandatory prison time for drug traffickers and for those who commit violent crimes is really hard to fathom for me. Allowing criminals who commit violent acts to serve their sentences on house arrest puts communities at risk.

For the last couple of minutes, I would like to talk about the issues many community leaders talked to me about. In addition to doing everything they can to combat gun and gang crime, they spend many hours fighting those who traffic drugs in their communities and who prey on the vulnerable who are struggling with mental health issues and addictions. Bill C-22 would make life far more difficult for local law enforcement and prosecutors by reducing and, in some cases, removing penalties for trafficking, importing or producing schedule I or II substances.

Conservatives believe that those struggling with addiction or mental health issues should get the help they need. They need treatment rather than prison time if their crime is not violent. Conservatives support restorative justice policies to lower incarceration rates for overrepresented groups in our criminal justice system, provided that public safety considerations are paramount.

What is clear in Bill C-22 is that the government, driven by ideology and having no basis in the reality on the ground in rural Canada, is making our communities less safe by removing many important tools. I encourage all members to take a long, hard look at the proposed legislation before they vote.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 12:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would encourage my colleague to look at the changes being offered in Bill C-22. The mandatory minimum penalties are being reduced for trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking controlled drugs or substances, importing and exporting or possession for the purpose of exporting controlled drugs and substances, and production of a substance in schedule I or schedule II. These are not simple possessions. These are people who are using controlled drugs and substances in organized crime by smuggling it into our country and dispersing it among our population. We now have more people dying, I believe, in western Canada from fentanyl overdoses than we have from COVID.

If we are going to talk about the substance of the bill, let us actually talk about what the government is proposing, which is possession for the purpose of trafficking and smuggling or the manufacturing for the purpose of trafficking. That is what the government is doing. It is a misnomer and it misleading the House to suggest that this bill is talking about simple possession. It is simply not true.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / noon
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Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

It is a privilege to rise and represent the constituents of Red Deer—Lacombe in this debate, who would be mortified, I believe, to know what the legislation is actually proposing to do to our criminal justice system, notwithstanding the words coming from government MPs.

Let me start with a little bit of context. I am the chair of the Conservative rural crime caucus and had the pleasure of helping to create a document in 2018 that we published as MPs from rural Alberta. Virtually every one of my colleagues from rural Alberta participated in this. We consulted and talked to a wide variety of people in our province. We talked to victims. We talked to rural crime watch people. We talked to anti-crime organizations. We talked to victims-of-crime services and to law enforcement experts, and we produced a comprehensive, thorough and multifaceted report, which we then tabled at the public safety committee in the last Parliament. My colleague from Lakeland had a motion in that Parliament talking about rural crime.

I want to remind all colleagues in the House that crime in rural areas, and specifically here in western Canada, is significantly on the rise. It has been shown statistically. One does not have to go very far to look. A document from the Angus Reid Institute published January 10, 2020, shows that crime rates in Canada dropped precipitously from 1991 to 2014, falling more than 50% during that period. However, crime rates have ticked upward over each of the past four years for which data is available, and that trend is continuing. It shows that confidence is waning significantly in our law enforcement agencies, courts and provincial jurisdictions. It notes that it is more significantly happening in western Canada, and in the Prairie provinces in particular.

Colleagues can imagine that the proposed changes to this legislation would be somewhat horrific to my constituents who ask me about it. If anybody wants to read the report, “Towards a Safer Alberta: Addressing Rural Crime”, it addresses a lot of crime in general by addressing rural crime. I would encourage them to do so. It can be found on my website, www.blainecalkinsmp.ca. I would encourage people to have a look at it and see what good work MPs in western Canada have done to bring forward the concerns of our constituents.

I want to talk a little bit about the overall Government of Canada's approach since it became the government in the fall of 2015. I am not going to get into too much discussion about specific firearms legislation in Bill C-71 or Bill C-21, but I will talk about Bill C-75 and now Bill C-22, and the soft-on-crime approach that the government seems to have. The rationale that it is presenting seems to basically undermine the needs of victims in this country, especially when some of these crimes are certainly crimes against people. They are not just property crimes.

What are some of the things that the government has done? In Bill C-75, which could be called the prequel to Bill C-22, the government basically hybridized well over 100 offences in the Criminal Code. To those who wonder what that means, there are basically two ways in which a Crown prosecutor can proceed with charges before a justice. One of them is through an indictable offence. Until this bill came along, it usually carried with it a set of penalties for which there was a requirement to spend some time in jail or in custody. Then there is something called a summary conviction offence, which is the equivalent, I guess, of a U.S. misdemeanour. It usually carries with it a very small sentence or time served in jail, in lieu of being unable to pay a fine of some kind.

Here are some of the things for which the current government, in the previous Parliament, changed the sentences from mandatory indictable offences to hybrids. This allows the Crown to plea bargain away serious offences such as impaired driving, punishment for theft, both under $5,000 and over $5,000, possession of instruments for breaking and entering, selling automobile master keys and other items, enabling theft, possession of property, stolen property obtained by crime and, of course, importing or exporting property.

That just names a few offences. As I said, there were over 110 offences that the government essentially reduced the penalties for. In fact, it would now be possible for someone to get a summary conviction offence for abduction of a person under the age of 16 or abduction of a person under the age of 14. Those were also included in Bill C-75. It would now be possible to pay a fine less than someone would pay for failing to stop at a stop sign. That is the legacy of Bill C-75 in the first Parliament.

Now let us fast forward to Bill C-22 and take a look at what Liberals are removing mandatory minimum penalties or just basic minimum penalties for in the Criminal Code. First, there is using a firearm or an imitation firearm in the commission of an offence. Interestingly the government is removing Airsoft and paintball guns from possession completely for law-abiding citizens, but if a criminal is using a firearm or an imitation firearm in the commission of an offence, they will now get the pleasure of going home and sitting there, thinking about what they have done. Possession of a firearm, knowing that its possession is unauthorized, is the whole point. Rather than reducing penalties for people who knowingly use or are in possession of unauthorized firearms, the government is instead taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens who are co-operating with the government. It does not make any sense.

More items include possession of a weapon obtained by the commission of an offence. One of the biggest problems we have with rural crime is people going onto properties to steal vehicles, tools and other items that are easily saleable and marketable on the black market. People also, from time to time, go to these properties purposely looking for firearms to steal. Why on earth would the government want to make it less punishable for these types of thieves who are purposefully targeting establishments, casing rural farms and casing our communities?

Why would we reduce the penalties for individuals who are purposefully trying to steal firearms? These firearms end up on the streets of our cities and our communities and end up being used in the commission of offences. This makes no sense, but the government seems to think that this is a good idea.

Here is something we can categorize in the realm of the bizarre. Why on earth would the government remove any semblance of a minimum penalty for someone who was trafficking weapons and firearms? If we listen to police chiefs or victims' services people anywhere in major urban centres, crime is proliferating especially with the use of handguns and firearms in those communities. We know that most of those firearms are obtained illegally through theft or are smuggled across our border. I would think that the government would say it was going to crack down on smugglers, but it would seem that the government is encouraging smuggling while discouraging lawful ownership. Importing or exporting a weapon knowing it is unauthorized is called smuggling. The bill would reduce minimum penalties for that.

The next item is discharging a firearm with intent. Why would we reduce a penalty for somebody purposely discharging a firearm with intent? This makes absolutely no sense. The Liberal MPs are simply misleading the House and Canadians with what their true intent is with Bill C-22, and it is incumbent upon all of us with a conscience in the House of Commons, and with an eye to doing what is right for the law-abiding citizens that we represent, to defeat this irremediable piece of legislation.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 11:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal Humber River—Black Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, it is leaving the flexibility in the hands of judges to bring down a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the crime. That flexibility is there regardless of whether it is a kidnapping issue or whatever.

Our justice system needs additional tools. Bill C-22 would provide it with the means to move forward to help the very people we are talking about, to give options in our justice system.

I have seen far too many families in Humber River—Black Creek whose family members got themselves into trouble for whatever reason and ended up with a minimum sentence applied. That has sent the family and that young person in a direction that probably will seriously impact their lives forever.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, the hon. member outlined the bill and very much made it sound like the crimes that were addressed in the legislation, Bill C-22, simply had to do with public health concerns.

That being the case, I am wondering if the hon. member could comment on kidnapping. Kidnapping is one of the things in the bill, and the sentence is being lessened for engaging in this. Could the member please help me understand how this is a public health concern?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 11:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal Humber River—Black Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, as a government, we are taking steps to try to address systemic racism that is pervasive in our institutions and Bill C-22 is a step forward in the right direction, especially for my riding of Humber River—Black Creek. With this legislation, we are advancing a policy that is truly about keeping communities safe.

We have seen throughout history how certain criminal justice policies have unfairly targeted indigenous peoples, people of colour and marginalized Canadians. Too often these policies were poorly handled and only reinforced the systemic racism, which our government has committed to eliminating in Canada. Let me clear: A justice system that jails too many indigenous peoples, Black people and marginalized Canadians is not effective, does not keep us safe and therefore must be changed.

In my riding of Humber River—Black Creek, I have seen far too many lives derailed by policies that target racialized communities. Too many careers have been destroyed because of a singular bad decision. We are a country that believes in rehabilitation and second chances, but our criminal justice policies have not followed this lofty ideal. That is why I am very proud to speak in the House today in support of Bill C-22 and the fact that the government has brought it forward.

With Bill C-22, we are turning the page on the failed policies of the Harper Conservatives, policies that did not protect Canadians, but, rather, targeted them. The measures in the bill, in conjunction with our numerous other reforms across government, are a critical step forward as we work to eliminate the plague of systemic racism and ensure that our justice system is as effective as it can be, one that is equal and fair to all Canadians. This means removing mandatory minimum penalties that unfairly target low-risk and first-time offenders, which evidence shows us only leads to the over-incarceration of racialized and marginalized groups and does nothing to decrease recidivism.

We want to expand the availability of conditional sentencing orders for those who do not pose a risk to public safety. The availability of conditional sentences means that judges will have the flexibility to determine whether offenders pose a risk to the public and, if so, will allow the offenders to serve their sentences in their communities under strict conditions. Rather than punishing these people for a bad decision, we would instead give them access to treatment programs and other supportive services. The evidence has shown us that our current system only serves to derail the lives of low-risk offenders and the dissolution of the family unit, which is so important, and negatively impacts the families they leave behind.

If we want to promote the rehabilitative nature of our justice system, we must practice what we preach. Giving low-risk offenders access to treatment and support, keeping their families together and keeping them integrated in their communities are proven methods of reducing recidivism. To answer the concerns of the opposition, these opportunities will not be available to everyone.

Serious and dangerous criminals must be punished severely as appropriate to their crimes. For serious and dangerous criminals, Bill C-21 would raise maximum penalties so judges would have the ability to punish the worst offenders. Those who commit serious offences would continue to receive sentences that would match the seriousness of their offences. However, this bill is about getting rid of the failed policies that saw our prisons filled with people who needed help, not incarceration.

Bill C-22 is specifically for low-risk and first-time offenders whose incarceration has proven to do little to protect communities in the long run, but has had a negative impact on the lives of these first-time and low-risk offenders. The evidence is clear that the policies of the past are not working. It is because of the harmful policies of the past that we see indigenous and racialized Canadians overrepresented in our prison populations by orders of magnitude. The policies of the past did not prevent nor deter crime and they did not keep us any safer. What they did was target the vulnerable, racialized and indigenous Canadians. Bill C-22 seeks to address some of these systemic issues, and I am proud to support the legislation.

We also want to provide police and prosecutors with the tools and guidance they need to treat addiction and simple drug possession, not as a criminal justice issue but as a health issue. With this in mind, Bill C-22 takes measures to divert away from the criminal justice system default for police and prosecutors when dealing with drug possession.

In my riding of Humber River—Black Creek, I wonder how many lives could have been altered in a positive way had these already been in place. How many individuals were required to reoffend because they could not secure employment after going through the justice system? How many families were destroyed as a result of the systemic racism pervasive within our justice system?

Bill C-22 would allow us to step away from these questions, because we know that those who are low-risk or first-time offenders will not be put through the gauntlet of the justice system. Instead, young people who have made mistakes or perhaps have turned to drugs as a result of a prior trauma will be able to get the help and support they need rather than just becoming another statistic.

Bill C-22 represents a vital step forward for our country. The changes that would come from this legislation would ensure that our criminal justice system would be fair, effective and would keep all Canadians from all communities safe.

I encourage all my colleagues in the House to support the legislation. Let us demonstrate to all Canadians that we will never stop working to create a justice system that embodies our values. Let us step forward together to end the scourge of systemic racism in our justice system and in all areas of Canadian society.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 13th, 2021 / 11:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time this morning with my hon. colleague from Humber River—Black Creek.

This is the first time that I have had the chance to speak in the House since the passing of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the royal consort. I want to go on record to recognize his significant achievements to public life and the Commonwealth. I know other parliamentarians have spoken to this, but I want to add my voice.

We are here today to talk about Bill C-22, which is about repealing mandatory minimum sentences that had been established under the previous Harper government. For Canadians who are listening in today on this debate for the first time and so they can understand the intent of the legislation, essentially there are three elements underpinning what this legislation is about. It is about repealing mandatory minimum penalties for certain offences, it is about allowing the judiciary to use greater discretion in terms of conditional sentence orders and it would also require police and prosecutors to examine whether it is appropriate to treat simple drug possession as more of a health issue as opposed to a justice issue.

I am the member of Parliament for Kings—Hants, in which there are three indigenous communities. I often say—