Mr. Speaker, I compliment you on your ruling.
Usually on Private Members' Business I compliment the members for their initiative and hard work. I think it reflects well on all of us for members to bring forward legislation and ideas that need to be debated and considered by the House, ideas that do not necessarily originate with the government.
Usually I start out that way, but in this particular instance, I believe this bill is just a waste of House time. This is simply a bill which adds nothing to the debate and in fact is counterproductive to many of the initiatives already undertaken by the government.
To say that I oppose this bill is to be minimalist in the matter. The bill proposes that there be more severe minimum sentences to be served consecutively for 10 serious crimes all committed with firearms, but by the same token that we ignore a judicial and statutory foundation for our sentencing system.
I urge all hon. members to refer to section 718 of the Criminal Code, which sets out the principles of sentencing, before they get too far down the path which this bill is taking us.
In January 1996 the government implemented tough new penalties for firearm related offences. New sections have been added, provided that when a person is convicted of having committed certain serious offences with a firearm, a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison is now imposed. The 10 violent provisions are: criminal negligence causing death; manslaughter; attempted murder; causing bodily harm with intent; sexual assault with a weapon; aggravated sexual assault; kidnapping; hostage taking; robbery; and extortion.
In other words, people get four years minimum regardless. In some respects it is a fettering of judicial discretion. On this side of the House, we think that is an appropriate fettering of judicial discretion.
We are satisfied that these new gun control measures are having a positive effect in reducing the criminal use of firearms and frankly see no need to amend the sentencing provisions at this time.
There are several difficulties with Bill C-484 and I would like to address them now.
By imposing severe minimum sentences, Bill C-484 does not account for the fact that the criminal justice system judges have discretion. That is fundamental to our system of law in this country. They have discretion in sentencing convicted offenders in order that the sentence may be tailored, and I emphasize tailored, to the individual, taking into account the criminal record and any other aggravating or extenuating circumstances.
I would like to draw attention to section 718 which sets out the purpose and principles of sentencing:
The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:
(a) to denounce unlawful conduct;
(b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;
(c) to separate offenders from society;
(d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders;
(e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims; and to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders.
That is the purpose of our criminal justice system. It is a very articulate piece of legislation.
Under the section with respect to the other sentencing principles, a court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles and it goes on to talk about aggravating circumstances. But in the deemed aggravating circumstances section, subsection (c), it says “where consecutive sentences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh”.
That is the essence of the flaw with this bill. If they are all added up, offenders will be serving 10 years past a life sentence. It is a bit of an absurdity. This absurdity would lead to further absurdities.
It interferes with what in sentencing principles is called the totality principle, when a sentencing judge orders an offender to serve consecutive sentences, and this is lost on some hon. members opposite. The Criminal Code already provides for consecutive sentences. There are not simply concurrent sentences. A judge has the discretion to order a concurrent sentence. I heard endless numbers of speeches from members opposite about this issue. If a judge chooses to put in a concurrent sentence, he or she can do so, but it must meet the principle of totality.
The totality principle requires that a sentencing judge who orders an offender to serve consecutive sentences for multiple offences to ensure that the cumulative sentence does not exceed the overall culpability of the offender. The effect of the totality principle is to require the sentencer, i.e. the judge, to pass a series of sentences, each properly calculated in relation to the offence for which it is imposed and to be properly made in accordance with the principles governing sentencing principles.
In other words, there are no volume discounts. I will repeat this. There are no volume discounts. In part, that is what the bill is all about; that somehow or other, if we fetter the discretion of judges, we will arrive at a more fair judicial system, a more fair sentencing system.
May I respectfully suggest that it would be counterproductive if the bill were allowed to go to a vote. I was glad to see that hon. members had the wisdom to not make this a votable item.
The Criminal Code provides for minimum sentences in limited circumstances. This is applicable to certain serious offences and reflects society's intolerance toward more serious crimes. With a four year minimum sentence for 10 serious crimes committed with a firearm, the Criminal Code makes is clear that those convicted of such offences should at a minimum spend at least four years in a penitentiary. Judges still have discretion to impose more severe sentences for particular crimes should they deem it to be appropriate in all the circumstances.
May I say that having been in court and having listened to judges, in all the circumstances they frequently listen to literally days worth of testimony, frequently contradictory testimony, and hear argument on both sides and, I would suggest, with the greatest respect to members in the House, are in the best position to decide what is or is not the appropriate sentence.
The House gets to provide guidelines. The House gets to reflect upon the moral imperatives of sentencing. The House gets to suggest things. However, in the ultimate and final resolution of matters, I would submit that we are prepared to defer to judicial discretion in most areas.
When the government provided for this minimum sentence for these 10 serious crimes, the clear intent was to discourage individuals from using firearms. Laws have been written with the objective that in all likelihood they have to withstand constitutional challenges. I have heard time and time again from members opposite how there are charter problems, is this charterproof or this horrible charter, although we all seem to think it is okay when it works our way. When we do pass a law it does in fact have to go through the lens of the charter. That is the law under which we all live, including the House of parliament.
The bill needs to have a short and quick death. I could go on to other significant problems. I have described how 718 works and how a judge actually goes through the various issues that are appropriate to sentencing an individual. We are all subject to the rule of law and we are all subject to the constitution. They put the discretion where it belongs: with the judge.
Bill C-484 panders to the worst in all of us. It panders to our most basic emotions of fear and it purports to offer a solution which in fact it does not. We have an illusion of protection if somehow or other we add on all these sentences. It ignores many of the principles upon which our judicial system is built. I would urge all members to simply ask for the bill to die a quick and painless death.