Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak on Bill C-42. This bill contains over 100 amendments to the Criminal Code.
Certainly we know that crime is a national issue in the press these days. During the election constituents told me they wanted to see the Canadian government toughen up our criminal justice system and make it work for them rather than just seemingly for the criminal.
Canadians refer to the justice system as their criminal justice system because they own it. However many times in this House I have heard members of Parliament speak as if they were the only ones who had the expertise and they were the ones who were going to make the changes to it without wide consultation, without having broad political support or without really being accountable to the community.
I do ask: Does the application of the Criminal Code in present day represent mainstream Canadian values?
The spirit of this bill must be tied into Bill C-41 which is still at second reading stage. Canadians say they want to feel safe on their streets. Last week for example over 3,000 people turned out in Coquitlam, British Columbia to voice their concerns and frustrations over the Young Offenders Act.
Canadians are serious about protection. They are serious about appropriately denouncing crime. Newspapers are filled with reports of criminal activity. The public wants to know what can be done to curb what they see as an unacceptable level of crime.
We cannot wait around for crime to get out of control before we make changes. We must do what the public wants now. The Reform Party wants changes. We must remember that change begins with the recognition that a problem exists.
When I went through the bill I came across several interesting things I could not pass without making some comment. Bill C-42 is an acceptable bill but is far from being a perfect or great one. Some amendments will indeed strengthen the Criminal Code. However, Bill C-42 does frustrate me in parts.
For example, clause 28(3) of the bill states "everyone who commits a theft in relation to property, the value of which exceeds $5,000". This amendment would replace the word "one" with the word "five". If we were to look back to previous Parliaments with respect to this Criminal Code section we would find some very interesting things.
In 1954 the dollar indicated for theft over and theft under was $50. If someone were to be convicted of theft over $50 the punishment was an indictable offence. Consequently for the theft under $50 the punishment was a summary conviction. The next time this section was changed was in 1975 when any theft over $200 was an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years.
The law as we know it today was amended in 1985 to $1,000. The punishment is an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years for any theft over $1,000. For anything under $1,000 the punishment is a summary conviction.
The increase since 1954 certainly is amazing. From $50 to $200 is an increase of 400 per cent; $200 then to $1,000 is a 500 per cent increase; and $1,000 to $5,000 is again a 500 per cent increase. However in the 40 years that have passed it has totalled an increase of 10,000 per cent.
This is a softening of the law. If we were to use history as a benchmark I suppose the next amendment would make it $25,000. Incredulous. Someone could then steal all the furniture in my house and only get away with a summary conviction. This is not acceptable.
Property crimes in Canada have historically accounted for most Criminal Code offences. In fact in 1990 thefts over and under $1,000 comprised over two-thirds of all property crimes reported to the police. A StatsCanada report in 1990 indicates that all property offence categories recorded increased in 1990 over the previous year, including a 13 per cent rise in thefts of motor vehicles, a 9 per cent rise in break and enters, 8 per cent in possession of stolen goods, 8 per cent in theft over and under
$1,000 and 7 per cent in frauds. Interestingly enough this was the seventh consecutive year that an increase was recorded for theft of motor vehicles. In 1992 there were 823,748 theft under incidents reported in Canada. That made up almost one-half of all property crime for that year.
If the government now raises the dollar limit for theft under the numbers will increase and theft over will decrease, one would expect. What we will hear from the Liberals then is that serious thefts of crime are on the decrease, but are they really? I would not think so. If the same logic of thinking is to be followed, why not raise the limit to $100,000 if you really want to lower one area of the published crime rate? Instead of trying to create a deterrent for the crime the government is making this into a game of shuffling statistics.
The area of concern is the theft over category. From 1986, one year following the dollar cut off being raised to $1,000 until 1992, theft over had increased by 9 per cent. I am sure the government of the time felt that by raising the rate from $200 to $1,000 would help curb published property crime rates. Today with Bill C-42 the government hopes that by raising the limit from $1,000 to $5,000 this increase will help curb property crime rates in 1995 and beyond. The government should take a careful look back at history to see how things failed before charging ahead with only a hope that it is going to work.
The government should keep the dollar amount at $1,000 and continue with the same consequences therein. Strangely enough if a person were to go out today and steal a 28-inch television and a hi-fi VCR from an electronics store, they would be charged with an indictable offence and subject to a maximum of 10 years in prison. Consequently, if that person were to steal the same merchandise following the passage of this bill, their sentence might only be a summary conviction with a possible maximum of 18 months in prison. I would call that a reduction in the sentence and a softening of the law.
The government is telling criminals everywhere and the message is clear: "Here is your grand opportunity. Go and steal some big ticket items and we will barely slap you on the wrist". Getting softer with criminals is not going to reduce the crime rate. It sends the wrong message out to the community.
Capacity creates its own demand. In other words a legal vacuum is all too soon filled with the negative potential of human nature. The government wants the public to think it is getting tough with crime. However, when you look closely at this legislation you can see where the Liberal agenda is off the rails.
Bill C-42 proposes dual procedure offences that would allow the crown prosecutor to have the option to deal with a case either as an indictable offence or as a summary conviction. For example, assault causing bodily harm, unlawfully causing bodily harm, and uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm are all currently indictable offences, but if the crown so wishes it may change them to summary convictions under this bill.
I want to point out something I caught in the news release by the Minister of Justice when this bill was first tabled in the House. He was referring to the reasoning behind the dual procedure clause and the option. He stated that typically, a summary conviction procedure is quicker, more straight forward and involves less stress and inconvenience to victims and witnesses. If someone is assaulted and bodily harm is involved, am I to understand the minister believes the victim would rather see the offender get a light summary conviction and be out of jail in no time or perhaps no jail sentence at all rather than see real justice take place and make sure that the offender stays behind bars for a good long time?
Currently a summary conviction in the Criminal Code has a maximum penalty of six months in prison. Bill C-42 raises that maximum sentence to 18 months and for this I applaud the government. This harsher sentence will surely help to stop some of the crime that is plaguing our cities and towns. It provides the court with greater latitude for severity. Therefore the bill does have some valid amendments. As Her Majesty's loyal constructive opposition and alternative it is our duty to analyze the entire bill and to point out areas of concern as well as areas of support.
On a different note, we see technology changing before our eyes each and every day. I used to think the fax machine was an amazing tool until personal computers came along. Now I cannot believe how compact they have become. Sending a letter through the mail system was certainly the fastest and most efficient way to get a document from one place to another until E-mail and the information superhighway entered the workplace. We have to adapt to keep up with technology in order to remain effective.
Bill C-42 proposes that fax machines and closed circuit televisions be allowed at certain portions in hearings. This will surely help to lessen the cost of flying in witnesses from all parts of the country in order that they can attend a hearing. With closed circuit television, a witness can attend a hearing, be part of it even if they are a thousand miles away. This will cut costs and for that the government has done something correct. Now if it would only cut costs across the board, we would all be in better shape, would we not?
As a justice professional I have spent a great amount of time in the courtroom. A person giving evidence usually has had a choice of going to the witness stand either on oath or affirmation. However in seeing it firsthand so many times it was apparent that many were confused as to how to give evidence on this affirmation option. With this bill the affirmation is now clarified in the Criminal Code.
In another section there is a clause in this bill that would allow the police to obtain a warrant for a blood sample up to four hours following an accident. The current time period is two hours and this by no means is long enough. In speaking with police officers it is apparent they are inundated with logistics following an accident. If the person involved in an accident is unconscious but suspected of a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, the officer with the increase in time to four hours will have sufficient time to obtain a warrant in order to have a blood sample taken.
Drunk driving is a serious problem in Canada. Groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, better known as MADD, will certainly be happy with this provision amending the code. I see this as a good amendment to the Criminal Code one which reflects the current community mood.
There is one amendment that I would have especially liked to have seen in Bill C-42 but I did not find it. That is the development of a national registry of DNA samples taken from persons convicted of a serious crime. That serious crime could be first degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, child abuse, sexual offences, and so on, indictable offences.
The idea of banking information is not new. Under the Identification of Criminals Act and the Canada Evidence Act police have been banking fingerprint information and have used it extensively to track down possible suspects. Fingerprints are fundamental to the operation of the justice system and similarly then so should be DNA typing.
DNA typing has been used in the United States and is gaining notoriety in such cases as the one involving O.J. Simpson. With the exception of red blood cells, all cellular material in the human body can be typed for example, white blood cells, root hair, saliva, semen, skin and even bone. Since DNA is essentially the same from cell to cell, any part of the body can be compared to another part of the same body. With only minute samplings needed a police investigator is able to identify a victim much easier and therefore have a much more certain tool pointing to a suspect. Such hard evidence can defend as well as convict.
We want to create laws that will also save money as the justice system is overburdened and this could be one of them. Police investigations are extremely costly to the public purse and are very time consuming. With over 100 amendments in this bill the government passed over something that would have really aided the law enforcement officials to do a better job and to help protect the public.
In the United States, 21 states have enacted legislation to permit DNA banking in various degrees. In addition, seven other states have introduced bills dealing with this very issue. The American National Academy of Science stated that if DNA profiles of samples from a population were stored in computer databases, DNA typing could be applied in crimes without suspects. Investigators could compare DNA profiles of biological evidence samples with a database to search for suspects.
A British royal commission pointed out that a data bank would also enable unsolved earlier offences where DNA evidence had been found but not linked with the offender to be cleared up if DNA samples taken from a suspect in connection with a later offence matched the evidence found at the scene of an earlier crime.
If this government is serious about solving crime and bringing forth justice it will not sit idle and wait for the world to leave Canada behind in the dark ages of technology. We can demand a blood sample for impaired driving but we cannot do that for rape and murder. This does not make sense.
Another tough penalty I am encouraged to see in this bill is the increase in punishment for those who fail to remain at the scene of an accident. Currently the maximum is two years and this is quite unacceptable. An amendment in Bill C-42 will make it a possible five years.
In conclusion, this bill missed the mark in several areas. The over and under dollar value is way too high and is out of sync with what Canadians expect of the justice system. This is clearly a scheme by which the government wished to perhaps lower the crime rate in its published statistics. For example, dual procedures will only cause more criminals to walk the streets sooner and lawyers to get more of their clients through the courts. This is a clear softening of the law.
The biggest miss of this entire bill is its failure to include the national registry of DNA samples. The Minister of Justice has previously stated many of these changes, referring to amendments in Bill C-42, will lead to significant costs and time savings for the administration of justice and will assist the law enforcement officials to do their jobs effectively.
That is what he is claiming. My only remark to this would be does the minister really understand what law enforcement officials could use to save time and money? If he did then he certainly would have included DNA as a registry in Bill C-42 or Bill C-41.
We will support this bill at this stage. As a Reform member of Parliament I am committed to being the constructive alternative to the government. This bill has some amendments that will strengthen the Criminal Code. Again, the government has to
understand that victims of crime want to feel protected by the code because right now it seems that the only person who is protected is the offender.
For example, this week we have heard more cases going the wrong way in the community's eyes because of technical problems with the law. I encourage the government to bring forward more amendments, to give some of the many private members' bills a chance and give them an appropriate assent if it is unable to bring forward bills of its own.
During committee of the whole I will be moving an amendment to hold the line of the current standard in the Criminal Code. I hope our constructive help will be recognized by this government.