Madam Speaker, as I rise today to speak at third reading of Bill C-5, my mind is once again filled with questions and confusion.
As critic for status of women and gender equality, I have observed an uptick in the number of femicides and incidents involving gender-based violence. Like my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord, whom I commend for his speech and for sharing his time with me, I wonder about the odd message the government is sending with this bill.
I will therefore address the delicate question of mandatory minimum penalties by starting with my experience in the community sector. Next, I will address the bill's shortcomings. I will end with a few suggestions for countering violence and sending a strong message to end the acrimony currently surrounding the bill and, in particular, the disinformation we have been hearing, as my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot mentioned.
I have a background in community work, more specifically with an alternative justice and mediation organization. I sincerely believe in restorative justice. I am entirely in agreement with the Bloc's traditional position, which mirrors Quebec's position on mandatory minimum penalties.
When it comes to justice, the Bloc Québécois advocates for an approach that promotes rehabilitation and crime reduction. We believe that mandatory minimum penalties, or MMPs, have few benefits, that they do not deter crime and that they introduce many problems, including the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black communities in prisons, as well as additional costs to the system. The Bloc Québécois is therefore more favourable to the principle of repealing certain MMPs.
However, the Bloc also believes in timing, since life is all about timing. Now is not the right time to repeal MMPs for firearms offences, seeing as a number of cities in Quebec and Canada are plagued by a rash of gun violence, mainly because of the Liberal government's inaction when it comes to border controls.
Many women's groups are particularly concerned about this and would like to see better gun control measures to help reduce the number of femicides. Repealing MMPs without doing anything to stop the illegal flow of firearms across the border sends a mixed message.
Conversely, Bill C-21 would strengthen certain maximum penalties, but we must be careful not to mix up these two bills. Although we believe that repealing MMPs for firearms possession is defensible, the proposed repeal of MMPs for certain gun crimes, including discharging a firearm with intent and armed robbery or extortion, appears to contradict the government's claim that it will maintain MMPs for certain categories of serious crime.
We need to monitor this aspect of the bill closely, as well as the possibility of maintaining MMPs for second or third offences. As the Bloc Québécois suggested, the courts could be given the power to depart from the MMPs in cases of serious crime where justified by exceptional circumstances.
I would like to clarify that the Bloc Québécois expressed support for the introduction of the principle of diversion for simple drug possession during the last election campaign and the debates on Bill C-236. Let me remind my colleagues that some of the MMPs that are to be repealed involve drug production, at a time when the opioid crisis is claiming more and more lives in Quebec and Canada.
During the last election campaign, I was approached about this topic by community groups that work with the homeless and whose street outreach workers are doing an excellent job, like those in Granby. However, the Bloc Québécois would like to point out that such a measure will be effective only if investments are made in health care, to support health care systems and community organizations. These institutions need resources so they can help people struggling with addiction and mental health issues, another subject that voters broached with me during the last election campaign.
The Bloc Québécois would like to note that we have still not gotten a response from the Liberal government on the issue of increasing health care funding to cover 35% of system costs, despite unanimous calls from Quebec and the provinces. Obviously, without that level of investment, it is hard for community organizations to meet the growing needs created by increased homelessness in municipalities like Granby. The pandemic only exacerbated the problem. Also, as critic for status of women, I see that homeless women are especially vulnerable.
Once again, the Bloc Québécois speaks for Quebec, where diversion is a well-recognized principle that has been integrated into several areas of the justice system. For example, in children's law, extrajudicial alternatives have been offered to young offenders since the 1970s thanks to Claude Castonguay's reform of the Youth Protection Act. There is also the alternative measures program for adults in indigenous communities, which allows individuals to opt for measures other than judicial proceedings.
There is the justice and mental health support program, which allows individuals who have committed a crime and are fit to stand trial to obtain a reduced sentence or, in some cases, benefit from diversion. There is also the general alternative measures program for adults, which is currently being implemented and which gives adults accused of certain crimes the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions and resolve their conflict with the law in ways other than the usual judicial proceedings provided for in the Criminal Code.
For all of these reasons, I would like to salute the organization Justice alternative et médiation, for which I used to work. I would like to apologize for missing the general meeting, but I know that the organization's work on all the issues I mentioned is crucial.
Lastly, with regard to drugs, there is the Court of Quebec's addiction treatment program, which makes it possible to postpone sentencing to allow the offender to undergo court-supervised treatment for addiction. It also provides for close collaboration between the court and drug addiction resources to establish treatment methods, including therapy, rehabilitation and social integration. Unfortunately, this program is offered only in Montreal and Puvirnituq. It would be good if it could be expanded.
In short, as the previous examples show, the principle of diversion is not new in Quebec's judicial ecosystem. Quebec's Bill 32 was studied and also involved diversion. The CAQ government concentrated on securing the passage of this bill, which aims to promote the efficiency of penal justice. The bill introduced the concept of an adaptation program, which will give municipalities another option for administering statements of offence to vulnerable individuals, such as those experiencing homelessness or mental health or addiction issues.
As critic for status of women, I am always rather appalled to observe the overrepresentation of indigenous individuals in prisons and to note that the problem is more pronounced among women than men. Some 38% of women incarcerated in provincial and territorial prisons after sentencing are indigenous, while the corresponding rate of incarceration among men identifying as indigenous is 26%, so this affects far more women than men. In federal prisons, indigenous women account for 31% of offenders sentenced to prison, while indigenous men account for only 2%. These are huge numbers. Given these figures, could MMPs be contributing to increasing the overrepresentation of Black and indigenous people in the prison system? Certain signs point to yes.
Diversion is also beneficial for individuals. It reduces the stigma associated with drug use, as well as the negative consequences of a criminal record, which are disproportionate to the crime of simple possession. One last thing I should mention is that MMPs are expensive, because they generate long-term correctional service costs and court costs. MMPs have a major social cost because the money invested in putting people in prison is not devoted to social reintegration.
In conclusion, because of my background in community work, I am sensitive to many considerations associated with this bill. One thing is certain: It should not relieve us of our responsibility as members of Parliament, especially since gun crime is an important issue, given recent events where many innocent victims were killed by guns. Although we agree with the repeal of MMPs, we should not minimize gun crime or the importance of making the public feel safe and considering better gun control measures. That will be debated in another bill. Let us focus on the bill at hand.
I can say one thing. On the one side, we have the NDP saying that this bill does not go far enough. On the other, we have the Conservatives clinging to their “tough on crime” approach. Is that the way to go? I do not know.
Then there are the Liberals, who, as I mentioned, are playing both sides of the fence, especially in the case of crimes against women. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action 32 sought to allow judges to depart from MMPs under certain circumstances, by which I mean serious crimes against women. The idea is to allow judges to decide whether getting rid of the MMP is a good idea. This is meant to send a strong message, especially in the case of serious crimes against women. The Liberals managed to do this in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendation.
Once again, this bill reflects the Liberals' penchant for catch-all bills. Minimum penalties, maximum penalties, diversion: Everything is lumped together. In short, once again, the Bloc Québécois is acting like the adult in the room, trying to adopt the most well-reasoned and reasonable approach.