Mr. Chairman, when the committee rose at two o'clock, questions had been put to me by the member for Fraser Valley East. In fairness to his questions, it may be best that I record my responses now. I can do so very briefly.
The hon. member asserted that the chiefs of police have been asking for this legislation since 1994 and here we are five days before an election call with the bill.
First, I do not think that any of us knows when there will be an election nor should our actions in the House be based on those calculations. We should act as we see it in the public interest, and that is what the government is doing.
Since at least 1984, the chiefs of police and the police community in general have been asking Parliament to give them more effective tools to deal with organized crime. The fact that the government has listened to the police community saying it needs more tools is evidenced by this legislation which has not been developed over the last few weeks, but rather emerges from the last 18 months of methodical preparation and consultation.
On March 21, senior ministers of the Quebec government invited me to a meeting at which they told me in the presence of some 14 municipal mayors that they wanted us to accelerate the work which was already under way to deal with organized crime. It was in connection with that we completed the work we had started 18 months ago and produced Bill C-95.
The hon. member made reference to some newspaper stories about how law and politics may commingle. I dare say that these issues should not be determined on the basis of the volume of newsprint that is generated for one side or the other. Not only do I think that the hon. member might find that the volume is very much in favour of the government acting decisively to save lives through this legislation, I also think we should make our own judgment. As parliamentarians it is our duty to do so.
We are here today to consider in detail the clauses of the bill. I welcome the opportunity and I think we should use our time in that way.
The hon. member also made reference to some sections in Bill C-42, which he said had slipped through the House. I want to assure the hon. member that nothing slipped through in Bill C-41. Bill C-41 was a comprehensive reform of the sentencing laws in the Criminal Code. Among other things it provided for conditional sentences, another alternative available to sentencing courts in appropriate cases. It did not slip through. It was considered over many years and was the subject of broad public comment. It was concluded as a strategic decision by the Parliament of Canada to provide sentencing courts with a useful alternative.
The fact that the section has been amended through Bill C-17 ought not to discourage parliamentarians. A wide variety of legislation can be improved through amendment after experience is gained with it. That is exactly what happened with the conditional sentencing provisions of Bill C-41. We have now made it clear through an amendment, to which all parties agreed, that before the courts award a conditional sentence they should have regard not only to whether the person might be a danger to the community which was the original test, but also all of the principles that traditionally govern the determination of sentence, including repudiation, deterrence, denunciation and protection of the community.
Nothing has slipped through. Legislation was enacted by Parliament to achieve a purpose. I think it has now been improved with the amendment we all agreed on and which forms part of Bill C-17.
The hon. member then turned to the substance of Bill C-95, and he raised questions in relation to the definitions and whether the definitions are appropriate for the purpose we are trying to achieve with this legislation. I suggest that they are, that they have been designed and drafted to catch those who have dedicated their lives to the commission of serious crime as a career and who are acting in groups for that purpose. That is exactly what we are intending to achieve with the definitions that we have chosen.
The hon. member made reference to victims. As I said earlier today, if we really want to serve the interests of victims, not just talk about it with a so-called victims bill of rights-most of which deals with provincial jurisdiction anyway-but if we want to cut through the rhetoric and get to the results, if we want to set aside the slogans and get to the substance, if we want to go beyond the symptoms and deal with the sources of the problem, then we should look at what Bill C-95 does for us.
Last week I met with a victim, a woman who had lost her little boy to the gang wars in the Montreal area. He was an 11 year old whose innocent life was taken because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, walking down the street on an errand for his mother. She is a victim. She is asking Parliament for help. She met with me last week and asked me to do everything I could to have this bill enacted so that the police would have the tools they could use in an effort to find those responsible for taking the life of her little boy.
Here is something we can do for victims that will mean something. It is not just an empty rhetorical flourish to capture the newspaper headlines but substantive action that will improve the criminal justice system so that we might have fewer victims in the future. That is a much more laudable objective and it is for that purpose we have introduced Bill C-95.