Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the people of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. Today, we are here debating Bill C-20, an act that would establish the public complaints and review commission and amend certain acts and statutory instruments.
First, I want to recognize a first-year law student at Thompson Rivers University where I used to teach. I want to thank Najib Rahall, who is about to start contracts class, which I appreciate. He is now in Hansard. I thank him for turning in my wallet this weekend. He is taught by my friends Professor Craig Jones, K.C. and Professor Dr. Ryan Gauthier. I am sure he is also getting a first-class education.
I also want to recognize somebody else who is a constituent. He was also a colleague at the bar and at my work, maybe even taking my position as a Crown prosecutor. I want to recognize my friend, Anthony Varesi, on his new book on Bob Dylan. It is his second book. He wrote the first one in law school. I am not sure how he did that.
On the matter at hand, it seems the Liberals have been discussing this issue well before I arrived at Parliament. From what I can see, this matter has been discussed for about seven years. The bill was first tabled in the 42nd Parliament and died in the Senate. It was then tabled again during the 43rd Parliament. We all know what happened at that point. Despite Canadians clearly signalling they did not want to go to the polls and despite the fact there was a lot of work to be done, the Prime Minister coveted majority government and, with all candour, let that get in the way of the work of the House.
Having been here for a year, I am still learning, but what I can see is that there is a lot of work to be done. The work on this bill in the 43rd Parliament was interrupted by what amounted to a small seat change in hopes that the Prime Minister would get what he wanted. He was ultimately denied that, but there was a seat shuffle, and I am proud to stand here on behalf of the people of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo as part of that seat shuffle.
Now we have this bill tabled a year into the government's mandate. As I was preparing for this speech, I reflected on why it took the government a year to do this. The election was about 14 months ago. I am wondering whether this was a priority. In fact, I asked my Bloc colleague a question about this. This is an important matter to discuss.
Canada has what amounts to the longest undefended border in the world. I have had countless interactions with the RCMP and with CBSA officials, some of them in my personal capacity and others in my professional capacity. These interactions likely number into the hundreds, and all but one have generally been cordial or favourable professional interactions. That is why we are here, because not all interactions and not all things go as they should both personally and professionally.
I will take a moment to recognize the work of peace officers, civilian members and staff with the CBSA and with the RCMP. In my riding, there are detachments with the RCMP, like Clinton, 100 Mile House, Clearwater and Barriere. There are three detachments also in Kamloops, being Kamloops City, Tk'emlups rural, which is situated on the traditional land of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, and Kamloops traffic. All of these detachments cover 38,000 square kilometres of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. I am grateful for the sacrifices of those who put on the uniform to keep us safe, with their backup officers often being an hour away through staffing or resource difficulties. They are there to keep people safe whenever they are in that area. These members see terrible things.
I was speaking to a bill I authored, Bill C-291, last week. I authored the bill and it was sponsored by the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap, and I thank him again for doing so. The bill proposes to change the definition of “child pornography” to “child sexual abuse material”, because what is occurring is not pornography, it is sexual abuse, and we should be calling it what it is.
One of the things I pointed out was that police doing this job were often at a constable level and they were reviewing horrendous images, images of unspeakable horrors. Usually, in my prior work, I did not have to view this sort of evidence, but police officers did, and they are not paid enough to do so, frankly, given the work they do. I thank them for that.
Let us face it, most peace officers, people and frontline workers doing the job just want to make it home. They do not want to hurt anybody. A lot of police officers I know would love to go through a shift without having to arrest anybody. That is often not something most police officers do. At the end of the day, people in the RCMP and CBSA have a mandate to keep us safe. They are expected to do more with less resources. While this is not always fair, it is the reality of our situation.
When it comes to our frontline officers and workers, we expect leadership. We expect them to engage professionally, to do their jobs, to be equipped and to be professional in all that they do. I wish I could see the same from the RCMP commissioner at this time. It seems to me that the commissioner is not always modelling that professionalism, being vulnerable to inappropriate influence from the former Minister of Public Safety. It is ironic that Bill C-20 talks about the overseeing of frontline officers, mainly constables, but I question whether senior Mounties or, in this case, the senior Mountie is herself immune from the oversight that is required.
I point to what the member for Kildonan—St. Paul said in committee in questioning the minister. I will do my best to paraphrase her, because I cannot be nearly as eloquent as the member. She noted that the commissioner was either influenced by the government or completely bungled the investigation into the mass shootings in Nova Scotia, a terrible incident, She asked why she had not been fired. This is the professionalism, oversight and leadership that Canadians want.
At the end of the day, we are here to talk about who oversees the overseers. This came up when we were debating Bill C-9 at committee in the past week or two. That bill proposes changes to the Judges Act that are long overdue.
Before I came to Parliament, I was unaware that there was no independent oversight for CBSA. Let us not forget that these are frontline peace officers. Oftentimes and typically, they will be people's first human point of contact once they get off the plane or at a land or sea border crossing. The provisions would require the RCMP commissioner and the CBSA president to respond to interim reports, reviews and recommendations within legislative timelines. This is quite important because we require, in my view, a consideration of some measure of independent oversight.
Most people here know that I come from a legal background. In my world view, the rule of law is obviously sacrosanct. Sometimes, we can have heated debates in this place, as we should, about how that should manifest itself. We may agree to disagree, but at the end of the day I think we can all agree that the rule of law is important. In fact, it is written into the preamble of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the courts, the rule of law is maintained in two ways, typically through an appellate function but also through ethical guidelines, for instance, the ethical guidelines that are being revised in Bill C-9. The overseers are overseen on legal matters by these two mechanisms.
The one question I do have when it comes to Bill C-20, and this came up in Bill C-9, is the question of consultations. I believe my colleague for the NDP raised this. I am not sure what, if any, consultations were done, but this obviously needs be explored at committee, if the legislation successfully passes on second reading. Let us face it that governments of all stripes often fail on these issues. We have seen it on the extreme intoxication bill. I call on the government to make this a priority.
CBSA has extraordinary powers, detention, arrest and search. These are sweeping powers where charter rights are often diminished. This bill would replace the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP with the complaints and review commission.
Let us examine the backdrop in which peace officers within the RCMP and CBSA are expected to do their job. It is important to evaluate that backdrop as we consider the independent oversight for peace officers doing their job.
My constituents frequently complain to me about what they have termed, and others have termed, catch and release. I hear about this from police officers from across the country. This is why I put forward Bill C-274, because our bail system must be reformed.
I have compassion for police officers doing their job and arresting the same person again and again, only to know that this person will be released shortly.
The government, though it is dealing with the oversight issue in Bill C-20, has not addressed key bail decisions in the last few years, which has led to a catch-and-release system. It is in the interest of all Canadians that the government do so.
There has been a 32% increase in violent crime since 2015. This is not lost on this side of the House. We have Bill C-5 and Bill C-21. The word “victim” is not in either piece of legislation.
It saddens me to say, and I am surprised to be saying this, that drive-by shootings can now result in a community-based sentence. That does not feel right in my heart, but, more important, from a legal perspective, it is not logical.
The Regina v. Nur decision struck down mandatory minimums for section 95 of the Criminal Code, possessing a restricted firearm with readily available ammunition, in this case a handgun. In that instance, the Supreme Court of Canada said that the appropriate sentence, as I recall, would be 40 months in jail.
That is what it said the appropriate sentence would be for a relatively young man. I believe the accused in that case was 19 or 20 years old. We are here debating, not long after Nur was struck down, whether that should actually result in a jail sentence when our highest court, which has frequently struck down these cases, said that this should have been 40 months in jail.
On the one hand, we have Conservatives who have often advocated for mandatory minimums. It was the Harper government that passed many of the mandatory minimums. On the other hand, we have, across the aisle, people who say that there should be no mandatory minimums.
I would advocate for a middle-ground approach, one that has mandatory minimums that operate in a constitutionally compliant manner. I have stated this to the Minister of Justice, that this is the appropriate middle ground. Unfortunately, he did not heed my exhortation to do so.
Police and CBSA officials are operating within an environment that has 124,000 more violent crimes than last year. This would make up almost my whole riding. Canadians are tired of this. Also, there were 789 homicides in Canada last year and 611 in 2015, which is a 29% increase.
Police and CBSA are in situations in which gun crime is a concern. I recall reading in the news a couple of years ago about a shooting of a teenager who was innocently driving with his parents. There was a person in my riding, a case of mistaken identity, who was shot down at a hotel. This is the situation our police are operating within. These were sons, brothers and friends.
There has been a 92% increase in gang-related homicides since 2015, yet when we come to the House to debate legislation on public safety, the debate is whether or not to relax these types of penalties rather than make them more stringent so that gang-related homicides would ultimately go down rather than up.
If members ask anyone in the system, I anticipate they will tell them that organized crime is so difficult to investigate. That is why they call it “organized”. There is intimidation, often a layer of distancing, money and organization.
If I were a police officer or a CBSA officer, I would be concerned with the proliferation of firearms. I remember one of the first cases I dealt with which involved now staff sergeant Kelly Butler, one of the best police officers I have encountered. She pulled a vehicle over and what was revealed inside the driver's jacket was a loaded sawed-off shotgun. I remember holding that firearm when it was in evidence. The firearm was illegal. The stock and the barrel had been cut off, so it was probably about 10 to 12 inches long. That is the environment our peace officers and CBSA officers are operating within.
Our border is porous, and there is a concern of what to do about it. The public safety minister has earmarked, as I recall, $5 billion to target law-abiding gun owners who are not accounting for crimes. Bill C-5 and Bill C-21 will be targeting that. Where could $5 billion be spent when it comes to our border and enforcement of illegal guns? I ask that question rhetorically because I have some pretty good ideas.
There has been a 61% increase in reporting sexual assaults since 2015. I have two bills on sexual offences. We obviously had the #MeToo movement in that time, which is always important. My wife was telling me that she saw a sign recently that said, “No means no”, but we have to go one step further and say, “Only yes means yes”. Only consent itself is consent.
To conclude, this proposed act would create an obligation for the RCMP commissioner and CBSA president to submit an annual report to the Minister of Public Safety. The report would inform the minister of actions that the RCMP and CBSA have taken within the year to respond to recommendations from the chairperson.
This is great, but one thing I learned in my first year in Parliament, while sitting on the veterans affairs committee is that, just because a recommendation is made, does not mean it will be acted upon. My hope is that, when these recommendations are made, they will actually be acted upon, otherwise they are worth nothing more than the piece of paper they are written upon. It is easy to use words, and we have frequently said that, but I call on the government to act.