Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow the member for Abitibi in the debate. I certainly agree with his motion. As well, I find myself largely in support of the original motion as proposed by the Reform Party.
I enter the debate cautiously because I am not a great fan of prevention arguments when it comes to crime. I do find, however, that the motion proposed by the Reform Party is moderate and quite reasonable in its approach to the problem.
I come to the crime of drunk driving from a different experience than the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who told how as a physician he saw the broken bodies of people who were killed by drunk drivers.
In my earlier days in a former life I was a reporter. I not only saw people who were injured and dying in hospitals but I saw the larger consequences beyond the hospitals. That included not just the families of victims. It also included the families of persons who committed the crimes. That made me realize that when dealing with the problem of applying and creating laws we have to remember to look at it as broadly as possible. The human condition is very broad and each one of us sometimes only sees a part of it.
There is a problem with increasing penalties for drunk driving. I certainly agree we should have penalties that serve as deterrents, but I have a problem when we want to create penalties that basically reflect our outrage at the crime. Then penalties become the vengeance of the state rather than penalties of either deterrence or rehabilitation.
I use an example from my own life in earlier years as a young journalist. The drunk driver, a father of young children, had tried very hard over the years to control his habit and had been largely successful. One afternoon coming home from picking up his children from a soccer game he had been to the pub, had drank, was over the limit, was involved in an accident and one of his children was killed.
What happens then? As a young reporter I saw the tragedy of a dead child. There is nothing more heart rending than to see a child that has been killed in an accident. I do not know why it is that we can tolerate seeing dead adults, but as a reporter I could never steel my heart to a dead child.
Later I followed it up and found that the wife and children of that drunk driver were absolutely devastated, not just because of the tragedy but because of the expected loss of the bread winner of the family. They know that he tried very hard to control his weakness, and despite all his efforts it led to this tragedy.
That brings me to the idea that when we look at justice we must always remember that justice must have compassion. I would not want to see the House pass any law that does not give the judge and the courts some discretion in looking at an entire situation, not just at the victim, in this case a child, but at the family of the accused when it is very clear that whatever sentence is coming down is not a question of deterrence. The individual did not want to do it in the first place and nothing would have compelled him to do it other than a psychological weakness.
On the other hand is rehabilitation. There is no doubt we certainly must have penalties but we have to apply the law with compassion.
There is a lot of valid criticism, but I think the weakness is when judges pass sentences that we know are inadequate for the crime, where there are no mitigating circumstances such as I have just described, when looking from the outside we see judges pass a sentence that is far too light for the circumstances of the crime, be it drunk driving, murder or sexual assault.
We just had a very recent incident in Toronto where a judge passed sentence on the most horrendous sexual assault case and most of us feel the sentence was far too light.
The problem is not just looking at the law and considering whether we should revise the penalties, which is what this motion proposes. Because it is moderate I cannot oppose that in principle. We also have to look at the question of who our judges are and how our judges come to be.
We are experiencing in society some serious reservations about the way we appoint judges, the way judges become judges. Our whole court system is predicated on the principle that the judge should be a person of great experience in life, of great integrity and of great professional experience.
It is widely felt across the country that perhaps the judges from the supreme court right down to the provincial court are not all they should be. That may be because of our current method of appointing judges. In many instances judges are political appointees.
I do not want to get into a debate about patronage. In some ways I think patronage is a very good thing, but when it comes to judges I have a great deal of reservation about judges being appointed by any aspect of the political process.
I suggest to my colleagues that if we want better quality judges so we can have better decisions in cases, be it drunk driving or be it supreme court decisions, we must set up a new regime for appointing judges.
Perhaps we need to look at a mechanism of independent appointment coming from perhaps the governor general, where the governor general examines the credentials of potential applicants and ultimately decides who should sit on the bench. Perhaps that would elevate the quality of judges so decisions made in crimes like drunk driving, murder or assault may combine common sense, deterrence, rehabilitation and compassion where necessary; not foolish compassion, not politically correct compassion, but compassion when it is appropriate and right.
I would not want to see our courts and laws become the laws of vengeance. Our courts and laws are there to make society better, to help individual citizens with genuine problems and to protect society where necessary. They are there to help not only the victims but the accused.
This may not be a popular position to take, but there you go, Mr. Speaker.