Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to first of all thank the committee for inviting me to appear this afternoon. It's my honour and privilege to do so.
I don't represent any association. I don't represent any lobby or interest group. I'm simply a law professor who has been teaching criminal law, evidence, and trial advocacy for the past 20 years. Hopefully, I can assist you with some of my experience.
I'd like to start with two fundamental principles in criminal law: clarity and fairness. The law has to be clear and it has to be fair. In my written submission to you, I point out that there are two problems with Bill C-10. I think there is a problem with clarity and a problem with fairness. I've provided two suggestions on how to make the law clearer and fairer.
First of all, I'd like to turn to the issue of clarity. Actually, it builds upon something the last speaker was talking about. In my view, Bill C-10, as it now stands, is unduly complex, and it will in fact be unworkable in practice. In fact, if Bill C-10 is put into law, you may well be creating a loophole for those who do use firearms in the commission of offences. That's my primary concern: the issue of firearms in the commission of offences. I think what you simply need to do is to simplify the law. Make it simple. Use the existing wordings in the Criminal Code.
I want to illustrate this with some examples. Let's assume we have an accused who robs a store. He has a shotgun, which isn't that unusual. Let's say the Crown can prove identification, which isn't that easy, but they can. Well, once they have identification, they also see that he has a prior record for violent offences using firearms. You'd think we'd now be triggering the second offence mandatory minimum of seven years. Will it apply? No. When you look at your triggering mechanism in Bill C-10, it requires that the weapon either be restricted or prohibited--a shotgun is neither--or that this person is a member of a criminal organization acting for the benefit of or at direction of the criminal organization. Quite frankly, good luck. That's very difficult to prove. In the absence of that, you have the residual, which means the four-year minimum. We can prove that he used the shotgun. We can see that. We have witnesses to that. We can prove identification. But this will not trigger the legislation.
Take another example. A woman is sexually assaulted at gunpoint. She's traumatized by it. When she's asked to describe the weapon, she has difficulty. She can't tell whether it's a handgun or a rifle or a shotgun or anything. She knows for darn sure that there was a gun and that she was sexually assaulted. We have DNA that shows the perpetrator. We have him. We can identify him. Will we trigger the second or third offence? Say, for instance, we see that he has prior offences for violence. Will it be triggered? No, it won't. She won't be able to tell us whether this is a prohibited or a restricted weapon. If she can't, you then have to try to prove that he was a member of a criminal organization doing a sexual assault for the benefit, direction, or association of the gang. Good luck, again. It's not going to happen.
Let's take a third one, a drive-by shooting. A person is shot. He was driving down the street, a car drove up, and someone shot him. We see that it was a .22 calibre. We have our forensics that can identify that. But can they identify that it's a .22 handgun? Or is it a .22 long rifle? If you can't prove that, you're not into the second or third strikes. You're back to the residual four-year, where we are now.
Here's the simple question I have for the members of the committee. If your intention is not to have those individuals punished with the second or third strike, then ignore what I have to say. But I would venture to say that your intention is that those people should be caught by the legislation the second or third time, and that's where I urge the committee to go back to simplicity.
In my written submission, I compare the wording in Bill C-10 with the existing wording. Isn't the concern firearm violence? Isn't that the fundamental concern? And if your answer to that is yes, then does it matter that the rapist or the robber used a handgun versus a long rifle? I think the answer is obvious—it's no.
Given this added complexity, I will tell you what crowns will do: they will not charge using your two or three strikes legislation; they will not. They will charge using the residual. Why? Because that is the course of least resistance.
You are giving me, a former defence counsel, an argument to raise in court with this legislation. You are giving me a means to negotiate out of two or three strikes with the Crown, because they're going to have real difficulty proving a criminal connection. My guy may well have been a gang member, but he was freelancing, and that means it doesn't apply.
So I urge the committee, there is nothing wrong with the existing wording. It has been around for over 10 years, since this Parliament passed the mandatory minimums for these intentional crimes, and I urge the committee to go back to simplicity. I think you will find that it will be workable. As drafted, the bill is, in my view, unduly complex, unnecessary, and, quite frankly, it will constitute a loophole.
I've got a second concern, the issue of making the law fairer. I don't care what anyone says—and you've no doubt been told this—mandatory minimum sentences are a blunt instrument. They remove discretion and they make all offenders subject to the same minimum. Some people are unfairly caught. Some people should not receive the mandatory minimum; they are caught. Some might say that's the price of justice, that's the price of using a firearm, but I think most countries who have introduced mandatory minimums have recognized that there needs to be some discretion.
When I look at the types of crimes where, in my view, people ought not to receive the mandatory minimum, there are two types of crimes committed. They are criminal negligence causing death and manslaughter. Both now have the four-year minimum—and, incidentally, they are not part of Bill C-10.
What I urge the committee to do is to consider discretion for those types of unintentional deaths arising from firearms. I want to give you two simple specific examples that occur on, I hate to say, a regular basis, but very routinely.
We've got the police association here. Let's deal with police officers, who have weapons. Let's assume we've got a police officer in a volatile standoff. The officer thinks he hears a gunshot. The officer panics and uses a weapon; he fires in return and kills someone. He ought not to have fired. He was mistaken; he panicked. He may well be charged, because we expect our police officers to be well trained and to be restrained in their use of firearms. He may well be charged with criminal negligence causing death, and he would then be subject to the four-year minimum sentence. I'm not sure what the views of the gentlemen to my right would be on that, but I can give you cases where this has indeed been the situation.
I give you another common situation from one of the first cases I was involved in when I was a young man. It dealt with a middle-aged woman. I remember the case well because it wasn't that often we had a truly innocent person, if you like, we were defending, so it stuck in my mind. She had blasted her husband away with a double-barrelled shotgun at close range with both barrels. It didn't look good. She was charged with murder. When we started to investigate, though, we found that the husband had been abusive. We found as well that he was a drinker, and we found that he loved his guns—and he had guns all over the place. He would routinely take those guns and threaten her and her family. She got so fed up one day, she picked up the shotgun—and she didn't have any idea if it was loaded or not—and pointed it at him and said, how do you like this? How do you like this? And bam, the gun went off because it had a hair-trigger. When the first barrel went, the second one discharged too. And she was devastated.
She was convicted of manslaughter. We got it reduced from murder, but she was convicted of manslaughter. At the end of the day, the sentencing judge gave her a suspended sentence. Members of the committee, that was a just and fair sentence for that woman.
The problem with criminal negligence and manslaughter charges is they are so broad, they catch people who unintentionally kill with firearms. Now, you might say, what does that have to do with Bill C-10? Well, if this committee or Parliament were to look at an exceptional discretion for criminal negligence and manslaughter offences, I would think it would show three things. First, it would show that Parliament has turned its mind to be firm but fair. It would recognize where the vast majority of fairness cases would arise. Second, it would provide a simple mechanism for people like the woman I represented to seek a just sentence. Right now, she would have grave difficulty doing so; she'd have to challenge the legislation under the charter or seek a constitutional exemption. And here's a third reason. It would show the distinction between unintentional and intentional crimes. Bill C-10 is concerned with intentional crimes.
Quite frankly, here's what my argument would be. If Parliament had a discretion for unintentional crimes, it would actually reinforce the point that when you use a firearm for an intentional crime—attempted murder, robbery, or whatever—Parliament has indicated there is no discretion. It would, if anything, make your mandatory minimum, in these types of crimes in Bill C-10, charter-proof.
I simply point that out to you. In my view, the vast majority of cases involving unintentional killings is where you have a disproportionate sentence.
Members of the committee, those are my concerns and my suggestions. I look forward to your questions.
Thank you for listening.