Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in today's debate on Bill C-51.
As has been previously stated, this is an omnibus bill which will amend the Criminal Code of Canada, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, as well as the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Among the highlights of this bill, we will see changes to the legislation with respect to homicide, criminal negligence, child prostitution, conditional sentences, telemarketing fraud, currency gaming and non-communication orders.
I must say at the outset that there are some positive aspects to this bill. Some of these measures indeed have been long in coming. It is refreshing to see that these changes will be enacted.
It is also interesting to note on a priority level the way this bill was described by one of the justice department's own witnesses who appeared before the justice committee with respect to the enactment of this legislation. It was described as housekeeping legislation. As far as priority goes, I would have to agree with that description.
If we were looking at this in terms of baseball analogies which have been prevalent in this chamber over the last number of weeks, I would describe Bill C-51 as an infield single. It is the bare minimum the government needed to do with respect to the criminal justice system. It could have delivered much more and there was an opportunity to deliver much more. Without getting into the specifics of that, I want to address some of the improvements that should and could be made to this legislation.
I will review some of the content of the bill in that vein. The federal government, the provinces and the territories share jurisdiction over a number of criminal justice issues. This bill takes into consideration many of the consultations that did take place between the various levels of government.
It is extremely disappointing that 17 months after the solicitor general and the Minister of Justice were appointed, they are producing only housekeeping legislation. When the government decided to table legislation with new innovative crime prevention technology, as it did with Bill C-3, it delivered a modest and potentially ineffective system. That is to say, it did not go far enough. To use the Prime Minister's favourite sports analogy, the government is dribbling weak grounders back to the mound when it could be delivering real serious hits.
Last week we saw the opposite of the minister's relations with respect to the provincial and territorial governments. It is sad that the Minister of Justice does not heed the will of most of the Canadian provinces with respect to bringing in a new youth justice system. Last December she delivered a speech in Montreal in which she promised the provincial and territorial ministers that she would be presenting a draft bill.
On May 13 the minister told the House that she would be introducing legislation with respect to the youth justice system this fall. No bill has been seen as yet and there appears to be no bill forthcoming. The minister broke her commitment to Canadians who are concerned with respect to flaws in the government's approach to youth justice. She went back on her word to her counterparts, the provincial and territorial ministers. We have no bill as yet to replace the Young Offenders Act.
Broken promises are not new to this government, in particular to the Minister of Justice and the solicitor general. Their credibility is at such a low ebb with the law enforcement community that the former head of the Canadian Police Association said several months ago “Frankly we don't care what this government has to say any more”. That is a shocking statement from someone in that position. The gist of this is that there is not any real and meaningful legislation as is required to meet with the criminal reality Canadians are facing in the streets and in their communities.
We do have Bill C-51, which is the subject of this debate and I admit it is a good housekeeping initiative. However, the reality is that the government has missed an opportunity to bring in real legislation that would address some of the outstanding problems. Instead it is putting housekeeping ahead of those major priorities.
Colleagues on this side of the House have mentioned that Bill C-51 will amend the Criminal Code in regard to some of the situations that need fixing, in particular homicide, child prostitution and conditional sentencing. It also amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in terms of dealing with sentencing and criminal liability for on duty law enforcement officers. This bill will also amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to exclude those convicted of organized crime offences for eligibility for accelerated parole review.
What was missed was the opportunity to enact in the Criminal Code stiffer penalties for those involved in organized crime activity. It failed to include mandatory minimum sentences for those motivated by gang activity to embark upon a life of crime, crime that inevitably puts people's lives at risk through drug peddling, prostitution and the type of gang warfare we have seen in the streets of Montreal and which is spreading to other cities in Canada.
This bill will remove a provision that in light of advances in forensic science and health care will also focus in on some of the technological advances that have been made.
The current Criminal Code disallows the prosecution of individuals convicted of murder, manslaughter or other offences after a year and a day has passed. That enactment has been made. I would embrace it as a positive measure.
Obviously there are situations that unfortunately could occur. A person whose life has been threatened due to injuries related to crime and is on a life support system or in critical condition may through their own will hold on until after a year and a day has passed. The perpetrator is then not held criminally accountable under the old system.
This piece of legislation brings about an amendment to the Criminal Code that would allow for prosecution after a year and a day for crimes related to murder and manslaughter. This is a positive change.
Another amendment to the Criminal Code with respect to Bill C-51 would be to simplify the prosecution of individuals who attempt to procure sexual services from a prostitute who they know is under the age of 18. It would also allow police officers greater access to electronic surveillance and technology to investigate prostitution related issues.
To touch on some of the comments I have heard from the opposite side of the House, there is an opportunity here to perhaps put in place mandatory minimum sentences to act as a deterrent for those willing to embark on this type of a criminal career. It is obvious to say that those who find themselves sadly involved in prostitution are often runaways. Often they are young women from small communities who are brought into big cities often through very extreme kidnapping type situations. Often there is a great deal of coercion, violence, drug addiction and blackmail used to get these children involved in this type of illicit trade.
It is also fair to say that Canadians are repulsed and revile this type of activity. Therefore we should have an opportunity in our Criminal Code to reflect that view which is held by an outstanding number of Canadians.
One of my colleagues on the opposition benches also brought forward amendments that have been referred to, specifically to clause 8 which would address this particular situation of those who embark upon living off the avails of child prostitution. There was a suggestion that there would be a minimum sentence of one year and a maximum punishment of 14 years. This certainly does give a broad range of sentencing. I might suggest that a hybrid type of sentencing option might be more appropriate.
I do agree that the initiative taken by my colleague is a good one. It would at the very least reflect the ability of a sentencing judge to hand down such a sentence that would send a severe message of deterrence, not losing sight of rehabilitation which is something that has to be kept in mind. At least it would broaden the sentencing options for the judge.
Sadly with respect to this initiative as we have seen numerous times at the justice committee, the justice committee with the Liberal dominated majority simply voted it down without any great deal of discussion or consideration of this useful amendment. It was dismissed out of hand. Other amendments were proposed as well. As we saw at the justice committee, numerous times without any great deal of discussion they were voted out of hand.
We need to break from the partisan discipline that we often see in this place and in the committees when it comes to issues such as this one which are so fundamental, issues that have such a broad ranging effect. Criminal justice issues should not be a forum for politicians or anyone else to delve into partisan activity. It is too important, too fundamental to the protection of Canadians, too important to help rebuild some of the communities that are under siege by organized crime and those who perhaps because of the economic system are willing to delve into criminal activity.
With that being said, we all have to take note of many of the initiatives in Bill C-51. The government's decision to delve into the area of conditional sentencing came up very short. This bill would permit the issuance of arrest warrants until a court hearing would be held with respect to breaches of conditional sentencing.
Another component of Bill C-51 is that it would change the breach hearing limit of 30 days to permit the court to deal with offenders who cannot be found or brought to justice within the parameters of the current legislation. Another is stopping the clock on conditional sentences. That is to say, if an individual serving time in their community under conditional sentencing provisions is subsequently arrested and sentenced to do time on a subsequent criminal act, the conditional sentence would not run concurrently. It would begin on the offender's release. I commend this as a positive change to the Criminal Code.
However, the reality is there could be and should be changes to the conditional sentencing provisions currently in place in the Criminal Code.
I think the expression has been clear on this side of the House that conditional sentencing provisions have been abused by Canadian judges. They have been used to sentence criminals who are involved in activities for which the drafters of this legislation did not intend, specifically crimes of violence and crimes that have an element of sex or violence in them.
Conditional sentences were never intended for those purposes and they surely do not reflect the need to protect society from those willing to embark on that type of activity.
A conditional sentence can be viewed in no other way but one which is extremely light and in most circumstances meant to be used only in very special factual scenarios. As well, conditional sentencing puts greater emphasis on those outside the traditional criminal justice system, mainly those involved either in policing services or in the administration of justice or prisons.
In many cases emphasis is put on parole officers or social workers to have the discretion to view conditional sentences or see that conditions are being complied with. These individuals are often faced with the discretion of do they breach the offender when they run amok of the sentencing conditions in place.
I suggest that for serious crime involving violence or sexual assault where the emphasis is on rehabilitation and protecting the victims, conditional sentences are inappropriate and not intended for that type of crime. Sadly the government has missed an opportunity in this omnibus bill to make those corrections.
We have heard that there are currently sentences pending before the courts where this discussion will take place. The judges may, in their wisdom, decide that these type of sentences are not appropriate. But as long as that discretion exists, and we have seen this happen so often, lawyers will make the argument.
Lawyers will always try to push the limits and beyond when it comes to these types of sentencing provisions. If it is there, the lawyers will ask for it. That is the way the system works. It is something that should not come as any surprise to us. Why not simply remove that type of discretion for certain codified offences?
We need to send a stronger message when it comes to violence. We need to simply say they are not eligible for that type of sentencing provision.
One of the more interesting aspects of Bill C-51 is that it makes amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. These amendments would ensure that offenders with ties to criminal organizations or gangs no longer receive accelerated parole review.
To echo my remarks with respect to conditional sentencing for violent crime, I suggest we have again missed an opportunity. When it comes to gang activity we could codify in the act in sentencing provisions that a crime motivated by gang activity or perpetrated by a person involved in a gang would receive an additional sentence or the sentence received would be served concurrently.
That is to say we would view this as an aggravating circumstance and we would codify that so it was a deterrent not only for the offender but for those who might decide to model themselves after people who are involved in the gang.
These gangs, as we have seen in the papers and consistently in the media, are expanding their width and breadth across the country. We know they have firmly ensconced themselves in a number of big cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Calgary. We are seeing these gangs become more and more prevalent and more involved in very serious and illicit crimes in smaller communities as well. If the Liberal government was willing to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act before the statutory review process why was it not willing to make some significant changes? There is in fact a review taking place. We have been told time and time again that things will be coming in a timely fashion, that we will have to wait.
This government in its new agenda of 17 months had not tabled a single piece of significant legislation to address some of the more serious crimes taking place in the country.
Hopefully the non-partisan view that I spoke of earlier will prevail when the Corrections and Conditional Release Act review does take place at the justice committee level.
I repeat my challenge to the government, though, with respect to its true commitment to crime fighting. As I mentioned earlier, the solicitor general specifically could be doing a lot more when it comes to violent crime and when it comes to organized crime. Nothing has undermined the solicitor general's performance record more than his inaction on this organized crime front which is supposedly one of the government's three strategic priorities.
The solicitor general has said quite often in the House and to the media that organized crime is big business and it is bad business. Recognizing this and doing something about it are two different things. Recognizing it, acknowledging it and saying publicly that he wants to do something about it, that is fine but the clock is running. When it comes to these types of issues, when the clock is running people are getting hurt, killed and things are happening that the government has an opportunity and I suggest a responsibility to do something about.
The solicitor general has an opportunity to do just that through legislative initiatives and through resources. Resources of course are a problem that the government is wrestling with, its priorities. Where does it spend the money? Where does it cut the money? Once more to echo comments from the opposition benches, the priorities and where the cuts seem to be taking place are extremely disturbing and questionable. All Canadians I believe are embarked on that process of questioning why the government is making cuts in the areas where there appears to be the most need.
One of the areas I would describe as being the most in need is that of frontline policing and the need of police officers to have the resources to do the job they have been tasked with.
That is not just partisan bluster on my part. That is the conclusion reached by the U.S. State Department when it was viewing areas in the world where organized crime was beginning to become a growth industry. There was an international report tabled, “The International Narcotics Control Strategy”. In that report the State Department singled out Canada as an easy target for drug related and other types of money laundering. The same report also listed Canada in the same category as Colombia, Brazil and the Cayman Islands as an attractive location to hide illegal cash. That same report also criticized Canada's lack of legislation to control cross-border money flow.
This is a very serious problem, so much so that York police Chief Julien Santino, head of the organized crime committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said: “Money laundering is an easy feat here in Canada. According to these reports the RCMP has estimated that the value of laundered money in Canada is between $3 billion and $10 billion”.
I express guarded support for Bill C-51 on behalf of the Conservative Party. We would have liked to have seen further amendments as are appropriate under an omnibus bill. There is a common sense need for more stringent controls and more stringent areas for the government to look at in terms of sentencing.
We will be supporting this legislation and hoping for greater initiatives on the part of the solicitor general and the Minister of Justice.