Mr. Speaker, you would think the number of times I rise to speak in the House, and the number of times you happen to be the Speaker in the chair, that we would be working a little bit closer together on my riding, and some other issues of course.
It is indeed a pleasure for me to rise and speak to Bill C-37, despite the acrimony we have just witnessed in the Chamber. It is a piece of legislation that certainly needs to have a number of points of view brought forward on it. It is an act to amend the Judges Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
I would like to refer to some remarks that were directed at my colleague for Langley—Abbotsford during the question and comment period following his presentation. In speaking to this bill or any justice bill we have to address the issue of accountability.
I believe the question was asked by the representative for Nanaimo—Cowichan that if we cannot raise these specific cases in the Chamber where we have immunity from prosecution, as sensitive as they are and perhaps as insensitive as it appears we are in raising them, then where can we raise them? I think that is a valid question to ask.
What I think my colleague from Langley—Abbotsford was referring to is the growing resentment across this nation. It is frightening, quite frankly. There is a growing resentment on the part of grassroots Canadians toward our legal system.
Part of it is the issue of decisions made by judges. If we are doing our job properly as representatives of the people, we have to raise these issues on behalf of Canadians who are crying out for justice, those thousands of Canadians who appear every day in court perhaps as victims or perhaps as family or friends of victims and fail to see justice done in the decisions made by judges.
A couple of nights ago in our shadow cabinet we had the advantage of having a police chief from one of the larger communities in Canada appear before us to speak about some of these issues.
One point came home to me as I listened to this police chief who has been involved for a number of years, far too many years, in trying to raise the issues of gang related violence, youth crime and the drug problem in Canada today. I could sense his frustration as a chief of police.
I could speak about members of the police force in my riding of Prince George—Peace River who have conveyed that same frustration to me which they face on a daily basis, not only as they go about doing their job but when they appear in court before the judges to whom Bill C-37 is to give a raise. We are to reward them and give them a raise. That frustration is growing not only on the part of police officers and crown prosecutors who work diligently every day to try to put some of these horrendous criminals behind bars but on the part of the average citizen.
One of my colleagues said “and keep them there”, a very important point. It is not enough to go through the process of the police doing their job collecting evidence, catching the criminal and bringing him before the judge and of crown prosecutors doing their job if it means nothing in the end, if the person either walks scot-free because of a technicality or because a judge for whatever reason decides to hand down some lenient sentence and the victim sitting in the court that day does not see justice done.
Some of these decisions cannot be defended. I believe that is what my colleague from Langley—Abbotsford was trying to show. Despite the intervention of the member opposite, I do not believe the member in his speech was trying to smear all judges. Certainly that is not what I got from the speech. Maybe the member opposite heard a different speech from what I heard.
It is terribly important that we as representatives of the people raise these issues in doing our job. How can we do this if we have to talk about them as was said by the hon. government whip, in generalities and not cite some specific examples?
How do we make the case for the viewing audience at home that we understand and have seen the reports in newspapers about a decision that was rendered but we as the official opposition, as Reformers, do not agree with those decisions and think they are bad decisions? They are not only bad decisions for us as official opposition but they are bad decisions, more important, for the Canadian people and for the justice system. That is what brings all judges and all justices into disrepute, not something my colleague from Langley—Abbotsford could possibly say in the Chamber. It is the stupid decisions, to use his term, that have been made from coast to coast about which the average citizen reads in his daily newspaper. Those are the things that bring the justice system into the greatest disrepute, not what we say here.
One of the gravest injustices would be if we as Reformers and as the official opposition ever felt muzzled to the point where we could not raise such issues in the Chamber. It would be a grave injustice for every single victim that every felt betrayed by the system.
Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you will grant me a bit of leniency; I seem to have strayed a bit from Bill C-37, as did my colleague. Justice issues are near and dear to the heart of not only members of the official opposition but I am sure to ever member of Parliament on all sides of the House. I believe all members in the House care very deeply about justice or injustice in our country. Although we obviously do not share the same points of view on how to fix the system, there is an awareness that something needs to be done.
It is our view that to bring forward Bill C-37 at this time to give judges raises—and we can argue on a individual basis whether or not it is deserved—is an insult to Canadians when so much needs to be fixed in the justice system. It is not just our saying it. We hear it every time we go back to our ridings.
The current justice minister has been talking about making changes, for example, to the Young Offenders Act ever since she was given that portfolio. We have yet to see legislation tabled in the House dealing with the very serious problems of youth crime in Canada. This was another one of the other issues the police chief discussed with the official opposition shadow cabinet the other night.
What is Bill C-37 all about? It increases the number of appeal court judges from 10 to 13. It increases the number of unified family court judges from 12 to 36. I do not have a problem with that. There is certainly a case to made for more resources in certain areas. The official opposition has noted that there is a need for more resources in the system.
I will get back to the point by one of my colleagues during questions and answers on the issue of accountability. I raised the question with the police chief the other night. Referring to the issue of organized crime, he said that they had the people to do the job but did not have enough resources. It costs a lot of money to investigate criminal activity. Some of these investigations take years.
I asked him what good it did. I am not opposed to seeing more judges in certain areas because there is a need. What good does it do in the case of organized crime if we allocate more resources, spend more money, get more investigators, go after them, get them in court and a judge rules on a technicality and they walk? What message does that send?
It is worse than doing nothing. It is incredibly frustrating to police, prosecutors and everyone involved in the case. Why I say it is worse than doing nothing is that once again it sends the wrong message. It sends a message to the criminals that they can get away with it, that crime does pay.
A criminal can do some of the most horrendous things and be hauled into court perhaps after years of intense investigation by the police or special investigators who have done a superb job on a case put together over months by a prosecutor. The criminal goes before a judge and the judge rules on a technicality or on precedent and gives a slap on the wrist. A drug dealer who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars gets a fine of a few thousand dollars, walks out of the court and laughs in the policeman's face. What message is that sending?
I am referring to accountability. By all means more resources should be put into it, but let us ensure that judges themselves are held accountable for the decisions rendered. There has to be some way in which they can be held accountable.
Right now the only way to hold them accountable is in the court of public opinion. If enough people from coast to coast get fed up with the system and hold rallies, including tens of thousands of people on Parliament Hill, then maybe the government will wake up and bring in the necessary changes instead of bringing forward Bill C-37 to increase judges' salaries retroactively.
Several members have used various figures: 8.2% combined over two years and 8.4% or 8.5%. I am not a mathematician but I am told it would be about 8.3%. I will take the middle ground. I want to compare it to the RCMP officers on the ground who are doing a real tough job. On Friday, March 27, 1998, RCMP officers secured a pay raise of 2% retroactive to January 1. They will receive a second increment of 1% on April 1, 1998 and an additional .75% on October 1.
Something is wrong with this picture. Currently judges on average are making about $140,000 a year and are to get 4.1% retroactive to last April and another 4.1% for April 1, 1998 to March 31, 1999. From talking to members of the RCMP in my riding I find that many of them are moonlighting right now. I do not know if members across the way are aware of this fact. They are finding it really tough to raise their families and make a go of it on an RCMP constable's wage.
People might ask what this has to do with the judges bill. We are talking about one segment of the justice system, the judges, getting a substantial increase to what I would consider to be a pretty fair wage now of $140,000 on average, whereas the starting salary for a third year constable is going to go from $50,508 to $52,423, about a $1,500 increase. Under this government's tax policy, I would question how much of that is actually going to remain in their pockets to help them feed their wife or husband as the case may be, and their families.
I know of a female RCMP officer in my hometown who is waitressing on the side to try to make a few extra bucks. I know of another one who lives just down the block from me who runs a bulldozer in the oilfield on his days off to try to make enough money. Yet we are giving judges an 8.3% increase.
What I am saying about this bill is not so much whether the bill is good or bad but that we have to address the issue of accountability. I want to make it perfectly clear for the members across the way I am not saying that all judges should be tarred with the same brush. There are some excellent judges. I believe the vast majority are excellent judges, doing a fine job and working long hours. It is those other judges. It is just like people in this Chamber. It is the same old story. It is the few bad apples who spoil the reputation of all. We can certainly use that same analogy when it comes to politicians, can we not?
The real failing here is not this legislation but the fact that it has been brought forward instead of a victims bill of rights, instead of amendments to the Young Offenders Act and instead of changing the fact that conditional sentencing is still being used by some judges to release violent offenders into our communities after they have been found guilty and have served no jail time. Those are the types of laws the official opposition is looking for from this government.