Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-41. The purpose of this bill is to introduce changes to the sentencing system of the Criminal Code. A number of aspects of this bill do improve the sentencing process.
Canadians are demanding improvements to the criminal justice system. Perhaps Bill C-41 will address a few of their concerns. However, some aspects only appear to be positive. Half measures or blatantly misleading proposals are not what they want.
Despite the introduction of the statement of purpose and principle of sentencing, judges will still have the same latitude under this legislation as they do today in imposing various and inconsistent penalties.
This month I have received over 4,000 letters and faxes as well as petitions containing the signatures of over 12,000 residents of the lower mainland demanding real deterrents as a fundamental part of the justice system. I believe that inescapable, real consequences are part of such a deterrent.
Respect for the criminal justice system stems from equality before the law. Where is the principle of building confidence in Canadians that their safety and security is a primary goal of an accountable justice system that must include the principle of equality?
As I address the issue of equality before and under the law, I would like to address the so-called hate crime section of this bill. It reads as follows: "Evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, nationality, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation of the victim shall be deemed to be aggravating circumstances".
There is no question that it is totally reprehensible that a person should be attacked viciously or otherwise because of their personal characteristics. The attacker should be punished fully for the offence. However, this section of the legislation poses several dilemmas which need to be addressed.
How will the courts determine that a crime was motivated by hate, prejudice or bias? Will prosecutors launch investigations into the backgrounds and motives of every person convicted of assault in order to determine whether that assault was based on a personal bias against the victim?
How will this affect current backlogs in the courts? Will only the most obvious crimes be subject to this section? Will the courts later overturn a verdict delivered by a lower court because it later seemed that the assault was or was not motivated by hate, prejudice or bias, even though the assault on the individual took place?
Why should one form of assault be judged as more hideous or unacceptable than another? What happened to the fact that any assault on a man or a woman is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated regardless of motivating factors? It is the viciousness of the attack that needs to be judged, not whether the accused harboured personal prejudice toward the victim. There is a problem with the enumeration of categories upon which bias, prejudice or hate will be decided. Is hate only an aggravated crime if it falls within these categories?
What about a person who is attacked because someone does not like their chosen profession? Consider for a moment the popularity of lawyers and politicians. Occupational bias is not on this list. What if they hate someone because they are rich or because they are poor? Class distinction is not on this list. The person who is mugged and beaten half to death for their wallet and keys to their expensive car by someone who resents their status or achievement will see their accused face a lesser sentence than if the same accused had attacked them for their religious beliefs. There is great inequity in this type of legislation.
I would like to bring to the attention of this House a couple of incidents from my own province of British Columbia which will help illustrate the problem with this particular clause.
The first occurred in B.C. to a young man by the name of Andre Castet. Let me read from the coverage of this case provided by the Vancouver Sun :
`But no less than a month after the Sidney teenager died from a beating, its his former classmates and the community who must regain voices and steps broken by the tragedy.People are still grappling for an explanation for this-something they can latch on to', says Derek Peach, a grade 12 English teacher at Parkland secondary, the 800
student Sidney school where both Andre, 17, and his two accused killers attended classes last year".
Would the parents and friends of the victims feel any better about this tragic death if they knew that the accused would be facing a stiffer penalty because the crown prosecutor could prove that the attack was motivated by hate, prejudice or bias? Since there does not seem to be any such evidence should there not be an outcry of injustice from those same parents and friends because the accused will not suffer as harsh a penalty as they might if it could be proven that they hated him?
What about the case in my own riding of Coquitlam, the tragic and senseless death of Graham Niven? His death sparked an outcry from the public which resulted in a rally attended by over 5,000 people demanding stiffer penalties for those youth convicted of crimes of violence.
Again, I quote from an article in the Vancouver Sun :
`A man who was kicked to death last weekend was helping a teenager in trouble, the victim's roommate said Tuesday. Graham Niven, 31, had just called a taxi for a stranded Burnaby youth before a confrontation with a group of youths outside a Mac's convenience store in Coquitlam early Saturday morning.He was being a good Samaritan' said roommate Steve Hoskins Tuesday. `He gave his last $7 to a kid from Burnaby who had missed the last bus home.''
The people in my riding do not want the accused getting off lightly because they are young offenders but they also do not want them getting off lightly because they cannot be found guilty of hate, prejudice or bias. They destroyed a man, along with his dreams and goals, and left his family and friends with nothing but their memories and their pain. No matter what the motivation for the crime the sentence must reflect the tragedy and hideousness of the crime. An assault is an assault and must be treated with the full extent of the law.
I would also like to address the inclusion of sexual orientation in this legislation. I am personally opposed to the inclusion of this term and would like to outline the reasons for my stand.
My party affirms the equality of every individual before and under the law and the right of every individual to live freely within the limits of the law. I assert that homosexuals already have the same rights and privileges as all other Canadians as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sexual orientation in itself is not a legitimate basis for special enumerated protection. I will give several reasons.
First and foremost sexual orientation does not possess the characteristics essential for inclusion in the list. Human rights are protected on the basis of immutable characteristics such as age, gender and race, or the universally accepted positive characteristic of religion. These criteria have not yet been established for the category of sexual orientation and in particular the undefined term as presented in this legislation.
As well my conclusion is based on the position of my constituents. Recently in a questionnaire sent out from my office I asked whether my constituents agreed that sexual orientation should be included in the charter as a protected category along with race, colour, religion or gender. A decisive 65 per cent of respondents rejected that notion.
It is my duty to represent the concerns of my constituents. It is also my duty as an elected representative to consider all consequences and implications. As illustrated in the debate in this House, the inclusion of such a term as sexual orientation would result in a profound infringement on the longstanding rights and freedoms of Canadians.
Would the label of crime of hate be applied to even the expression of one's deeply held religious or personal convictions if those personal convictions were that homosexuality was immoral? That has been proposed.
Would it be a crime of hate to express personal freedom of association by the exclusion of homosexuals in churches or private associations or even as roommates? These and other questions will be raised in broader ways as we discuss the government's proposed changes to the Human Rights Act.
May I say that a government that denies the moral will of the majority of Canadians by forcing a vote on party lines is denying the very basics of democracy.
In conclusion, society demands that a criminal justice system enforce deterrence of the offender with just and predictable consequence. It demands the principle of equality under the law to be applied to all Canadians. Assault or any other crime for whatever reason should receive the full force of law regardless of the range of emotion behind the motives for the crime. Canadians want justice applied without the intrusion of mind police or political correctness. Canadians want laws and systems better defined to protect society as a whole.
Bill C-41 introduces more potential for inequities and unpredictability in an already flawed system.