Thank you very much. I'm happy to play second fiddle to my colleague from West Nova.
You've mentioned that I'm not a regular member of this committee, although I've sat in for virtually every minute of this particular study, in part by coincidence in filling in for colleagues, but really, what motivated me to volunteer for those openings was the serious consideration I gave this bill during second reading and the attention that I thought it deserved. When it was first presented to me, I thought, as some of my colleagues have explained, that there was some merit to the ideas behind this bill.
I'd like to thank Mr. Cooper in particular, who took time to speak to me privately, even on a weekend, to sell some of the virtues of this bill. I enjoyed that level of engagement. His work as a parliamentarian has been exemplary.
Of course, after considering the evidence, I do find myself in a position of disagreement, despite having supported it at second reading and, of course, against the position of the government.
Some of my colleagues have mentioned the role of emotions, and emotions not being enough.... I find this an incredibly emotional experience. To hear Ms. MacInnis-Wynn's testimony was compelling, but I don't apply my emotions to the exclusion of reason and logic. My emotions have convinced me that we need to adopt a law that will not jeopardize the safety of Canadians in having more criminals on the street. Reason and logic have led me to a place where I believe that adopting Bill S-217 into law will have that countervailing effect.
I'll address some of the concerns, but before I jump into a few of the substantive issues that I see with this, let me say that I spent hours and hours toiling over this bill. If I had a friend who was a crown prosecutor or a police officer, I asked them what their thoughts were. I wanted to get feedback from those I know in my personal life who may deal with this issue. That helped inform my perspective, but I did find the evidence that came before this committee to be very compelling. I share Mr. Nicholson's point of view that what this is about is protecting victims, but more than just protecting victims, it's about reducing the number of victims we have in Canadian society.
With respect to the arguments about delay, Mr. Nicholson suggested that maybe it's 30 minutes. If this were a 30-minute delay or a matter of clicking “print” on a CPIC record, this would have my unequivocal support, but on the facts, the evidence hasn't borne out that suggestion. What we've heard is that this has the potential to turn bail hearings into mini-trials. They're already a source of significant delay.
One of the pieces of testimony that I found compelling, which was on behalf of prosecutors across the country, was that if the prosecutor were to show up seeking victory in a bail hearing and failed to produce the criminal record because of negligence—they simply forgot—the solution would not be readily available. What the evidence suggested is that a judge would likely say, “Well, I can't do this for you”, and the crown would have to adjourn, which would lead to the accused person being led out without having their bail hearing considered in the first place. I don't believe that this bill makes it more likely that the criminal record would be brought forward.
To your point, Mr. Falk, you've suggested that this was not a mistake, that it was permissible. I've heard that line of argument a few times, and I do appreciate the ingenuity behind the argument, but I disagree with the impact that it will actually have on the ground. We heard Mr. Michael Elliott, I believe it was, who appeared alongside Ms. MacInnis-Wynn, describe the introduction of criminal records at bail hearing as “protocol”. We've heard, on behalf of crown counsel, evidence suggesting that this is the first thing that a crown prosecutor learns, that it's a matter of routine.
From the evidence, the only instance that I can understand where this evidence would not be led is human error, and I don't believe changing the word “may” to “shall” or any sort of permissive to mandatory switch in the language would have the desired effect of making a criminal record appear on the record of evidence where it would not otherwise appear.
With respect to the government's intention, which Mr. Cooper alluded to, I can say with my right hand to God that this conclusion I have arrived at independently through consultation with those who have knowledge and through hearing the evidence.
This is not something that is being driven by the government in my experience, but instead by the response of the individual committee members to the evidence we've heard.
With respect to the argument that we haven't introduced any evidence from the front-line workers, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police was unequivocal in its opposition to this particular piece of legislation going through.
With respect to the issue of judicial appointments, I take some exception to having a finger pointed across the way at me with the saying, “these Liberals are responsible for this.” Judicial delay in appointments has been a problem for, I dare say, decades in Canada.
When I practised law in Mr. Cooper's province of Alberta, I remember leading a training session for the Legal Education Society of Alberta—prior to this government's coming into power—about the fact that the mandatory judicial dispute resolution provision in the Alberta Rules of Court could not be implemented at the direction of the chief justice because there were insufficient judges in Alberta then.
This is not a problem that magically appeared under the new minister, but it is a problem—delay in the justice system. Given my conversations, the questions I've seen in the House, and the responses, I do have faith that this is being taken seriously, and I will continue to push alongside members of every party to ensure that we fill those vacancies expeditiously.
To conclude, I do not see a route that Bill S-217 can have to become law that would improve safety because the central component of this bill is the source of my reticence. For that reason, I plan to support Mr. Bittle's motion.